Thursday, 12 January 2012

The Magick Circle - Robert Fraser

Robert Fraser

Robert Fraser.

Eton educated, this son of a wealthy banker was a former officer in The Kings Rifles, and a conduit to all the major players in Swinging London as well as the more subversive, darker elements of the criminal underworld. He was a friend of gangland killers The Krays. Spanish Tony Sanchez claims in his book that Fraser owed £20,000 to the Krays through gambling debts and that they were leaning on him for repayment. Sanchez claims he visited the twins and sorted out the problem.

Fraser, along with his sidekick, Christopher Gibbs, the nephew of a former Governor of Rhodesia, would over the next few years be at the heart of all the major incidents involving not just the Beatles but also the Rolling Stones.

After the Beatles commissioned The Fool to supply the artwork for the cover of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Fraser intervened and suggested to Paul McCartney that they should use a ‘real artist.’ Peter Blake was brought in and he and Fraser then produced the cover that sparked the enigma.



Fraser was arrested at Keith Richards Sussex home during the infamous Redlands Bust. He was later sentenced to six months imprisonment for possession of heroin. It has been widely suggested that someone tipped off the police about the activities at Redlands who had, for a long time, been attempting to arrest the Stones on drugs charges. Interestingly, George Harrison who was present that day, left Redlands immediately prior to the arrival of the police.


Robert Fraser was not only a man that captured the zeitgeist of an era but he was perhaps the greatest British art dealer of the 20th century. His gallery was responsible for introducing the London art world to Peter Blake, Jim Dine, Richard Hamilton, Bridget Riley and Andy Warhol among others. Fraser encapsulated the "Swinging Sixties" in London with gusto and vitality and although a lesser figure in terms of the public conscience, he was as central to the era as Mick Jagger, Mary Quant and The Beatles. Robert Fraser was the flamboyant, gay son of a wealthy Scottish banker.
Art critic David Sylvester wrote, "Fraser was one of the most charismatic forces of the era. According to the late New York gallerist Leo Castelli, he was ‘a superb dealer’; among leading artists, Richard Hamilton said that ‘Robert’s was the best gallery I knew in London,’ Ellsworth Kelly stated; that ‘he was a very courageous and flamboyant dealer,’ Claes Oldenburg said that ‘Robert really had an eye for draughtsmanship. Very few dealers have.’ He also had a great flair for presentation. To begin with, when he first opened a gallery, he chose that highly original architect, Cedric Price, to design it. And he was effective here not only as a producer but as a director. Bridget Riley tells a story of how Fraser handled a show of hers consisting of about fifty ‘very small drawings, using blacks, whites, greys and pencil notes . . . close-framed, in Perspex, so that one saw only the actual image.’ After working together all day on trying to hang them, they were in despair. Returning in the morning she found that Fraser ‘had painted the entire place black – walls, ceiling, all the woodwork, everything was completely black. And so these little light, pale studies, very fragile pieces of paper, shone, and were set off in an amazing way.’
Fraser was educated at Eton and spent several years in Africa in the 1950s as an officer of The King's Rifles; it was later rumoured that during this time he had a sexual liaison with the young Idi Amin. After a period spent working in galleries in the United States, he returned to England and with the help of his father (a wealthy financier who had also been a trustee of the Tate Gallery) in 1962 he established the Robert Fraser Gallery in Duke St, Grosvenor Square, London. It became a focal point for modern art in Britain
In 1966 the Robert Fraser Gallery was prosecuted for staging an exhibition of works by Jim Dine that was described as indecent (but not obscene). The works were removed from the gallery by Scotland Yard and Fraser was charged under a 19th Century law that applied to street beggars. Fraser was fined 20 guineas and legal costs. Fraser became well known as a trendsetter during the Sixties — Paul McCartney has described him as "one of the most influential people of the London Sixties scene". His London flat and his gallery were the foci of a "jet-set" salon of top pop stars, artists, writers and other celebrities, including members of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, photographer Michael Cooper, designer Christopher Gibbs, Marianne Faithfull, Dennis Hopper (who introduced Fraser to satirist Terry Southern), William Burroughs and Kenneth Anger. Because of this he was given the nickname "Groovy Bob". He is also thought to be an inspiration for the character "Dr. Robert" in the song of the same name on The Beatles album Revolver. Fraser sponsored the 1966 exhibition by Yoko Ono at the Indica Gallery at which she first met John Lennon. Fraser also gave Paul McCartney a small painting of an apple by Rene Magritte which is believed to have been the inspiration for the name and logo of the Beatles' record company, Apple Records. It was also through Fraser that Richard Hamilton was selected to design the poster for the White Album. His gallery also hosted "You Are Here", Lennon's own foray into avant garde art during 1968.

The downfall of Fraser’s gallery was the consequence of his own actions. His addiction to heroin, took hold of him increasingly from about 1965, damaging his concentration. He was arrested and went to prison in 1967 for four months. This was the drug bust famously depicted by Richard Hamilton titled 'Swingeing London' showing Rolling Stone Mick Jagger in the back of a police car with the art dealer. In his absence the gallery was placed in receivership but kept going by his loyal assistant, Susan Loppert. When Fraser returned, ‘that was cool for a minute,’ says Jim Dine. ‘But then I think that Robert just lost interest. Like a child, his attention span was not very long.’ Dine is an artist whose judgment is always sharp but sometimes impatient: a number of interesting exhibitions were still put on at the gallery – including a show lasting an afternoon by the unknown Gilbert and George – before it closed towards the end of 1969. After years in India, Fraser returned to London opening a gallery in Cork Street. Despite being the first to show New York artists Keith Haring and Jean Michel Basquiat, the gallery had little success in recapturing the interest of his earlier efforts. He died of an AIDS related illness in 1986.