Gordon Frickers: A Different Perspective

Rob McDowell

There are some joys to being ‘locked down’! For me, one of them is occasionally trolling the internet (as you do) for wooden boats… and on this instance, I unexpectedly stumbled across an artist I’d not heard of before. Gordon Frickers. I’m sorry Gordon, I’ve spent too long under the African skies to be cultured in maritime art.
What I saw was simple, bright, colourful and refreshing, a delightful watercolour of Barnabas, painted in the early 70’s. And the accompanying text included something along the lines of, ‘I wonder where she is now’? I had no option but to reply…

Barnabas, painted by Gordon Frickers around 1974

Gordon writes back, ‘one of the earliest surviving examples of my emerging talent. I recall Barnabas very well. Back in the 1970’s she was one of the first small craft to be restored, at the time a brave and imaginative project. When I painted her from life, she was said to be 101 years old. To capture the ambience, I was sitting in sunshine on a bollard on a quay near Penryn, West Cornwall. I probably drew the picture 1974. The Cornish lads were very proud of her and gleefully claiming that in a fresh breeze, manned by 16 drunken Cornishmen, she had easily outsailed racing yachts of similar size from the Royal Cornwall Yacht Club’. 50 years on, things don’t change… apart from not being drunk and in charge.

‘Luggers were fast, sea worthy, economic, much used by fishermen, smugglers and sometimes by pirates. Coincidentally, one of the earliest examples of the work of one of my heroes, Toulouse Lautrec, is also a ‘lugger painting’.’ Wooden vessels were to feature more in Gordon’s life, in two spectacular gale-based paintings, one of Sir Robin Knox-Johnson climbing ‘above a wave’ on Suhaili.

Roaring Forties by Gordon Frickers

Roaring Forties was the first of three Gordon Frickers paintings commissioned by Sir Robin Knox-Johnson and depicts a dramatic moment during the yachtsman’s 1969 solo circumnavigation. ‘For a brief, inglorious moment there was me & two masts in sight & nothing but ocean in any direction for 2,000 miles. I saw this grey beard approaching. It wasn’t the biggest, it looked dangerous. I leapt into the rigging to avoid being swept away.’ Sir Robin Knox-Johnson.

Another is of Pete Goss just about to be ‘under a wave’ on Spirit of Mystery. Spirit of Mystery is a replica (2008) 37 foot Mounts Bay lugger which headed on an epic voyage from Newlyn to Australia in 2008/09, in search of fortune. This followed the original 1854/55 passage and was skippered by Westcountry sailor and adventurer, Pete Goss MBE and his crew. Before my time, Pete was the Patron or Sailing Master on Barnabas, apparently fine-tuning his lugger skills before setting off to Australia! If anybody has heard of a more adventurous lugger adventure, please let me know? Well, one certainly can’t forget Jude and Jono Brickhill in Guide Me, still engineless, and based round the Lizard in Gweek.

Spirit of Mystery

Anyway, do have a browse over Gordon’s diverse range of paintings on his web site. I have a gut feeling they are a good investment, so start saving for a commission – naturally of you sailing Barnabas this summer!
Keep safe and I hope to see a team antifouling with us in a few months. Proper Job.

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Written by Cornish Maritime Trust