West Australian polymath Ben Frichot has, for several decades now, motioned his way around all points of pop cultural expression.
Combining elements of old and new, obscure and commercial, rock and/or roll, Frichot has excelled in artistic fields ranging from music (bands such as Storytime, The Hot Rod Sinners and Day Of The Dead), concert tour poster art (from Motorhead and Shihad to The Hives and Nick Cave), fashion design (Knucklehead Shipping Co.), web design (Knucklehead TV), commercial graphics (The Design Factory), a high-end sunglasses brand (Dillinger Optics) and a new avenue under the nom de plume, Lucky Amour.
The highly-respected Lyons Gallery represents Lucky Amour (AKA Frichot) amidst a stable of artists such as Banksy, Chet Ferry, E$cobar, Pino Ambrosino, Masayoshii Sukita and the estates of Roy Lichtenstein, Helmut Newton, Andy Warhol and others.
The ‘Lucky Amour’ moniker harks back to the ‘90s when Frichot was staging his first exhibitions. “I came up with that and was using it a long time ago,” he recalls. “I don’t remember why I was doing it at the time, but the gallery people really liked it and that’s what they’ve run with.”
Quite simply, the name fits. “It’s a whole fantasy world created by that art and it is all very much in a theme.
“It’s funny when it gets to signing stuff and you have to sign another signature. I hadn’t invented a signature since I was nine years old,” he laughs.
‘Power To The People’ – Lucky Amour
At nine-years-old the young Frichot would come home from school and do his homework. There was no television allowed in the household by his father, so he would retire to the sanctuary of his bedroom where he began to create the kinds of fantasy worlds that he shares with the real world to this day.
“I was always drawing as a kid,” Frichot recalls. “From when I was little, I was always the cartoon kid… through primary school and high school I was always into that.
“In my room, I had a table with drawing stuff and a guitar. They were the two things I would spend every night doing – trying to learn how to play blues licks and creating comic book characters. I really liked comics, and I still do.”
The Cartoon Kid was making headway on guitar having taken a few lessons. That was okay and all, but it was an archetypal rock’n’roll scenario that got him totally hooked on six-strings.
“When I was 14, I met this girl who was 16 who played guitar and was all about it,” he says. “I thought she was the coolest chick in the world, so all of a sudden I was trying to play guitar and I was all about it.”
The dual/duel love-affair of art and music was set in stone. Frichot teamed up with some friends at school who had been jamming and soon evolved his presence from an outside guest to the creative driving force, as the (frankly average) singer was ushered aside and Frichot began to create original guitar riffs for them to jam on. It was instrumental music and an extension of the ‘theatre of the mind’ stuff that Frichot had already been creating for some years in his bedroom.
“Much like the drawing, I’d be figuring out shapes that I thought sounded good in my bedroom which became riffs,” he says, of the band that came to become known as Storytime. “Then I’d go and jam them with the guys.
“That’s what Storytime was, an endless collection of riffs.”
As the members left school and channelled their energies into the band and playing gigs, Storytime took off. They won the National Campus Band Grand Final in 1991, which set them touring nationally almost from the get-go. They played hundreds of shows and released several EPs and albums.
Storytime was a very physical band in every sense, as Frichot came to recall when they reformed for a few shows in 2016. John Lydon’s prescription for energy held true.
“I think that was partly an expression of a lot of anger,” Frichot concurs. “At the time I was young, and my father had died suddenly in a car accident when I was 17. I was basically homeless after that. Then I was basically a young parent with a barmaid that I met when I was working regionally, and life really spiralled. I felt as if I was in the driver’s seat, but I wasn’t, and I don’t think I was very aware, and I didn’t really have any good guidance around me.
“So I made a lot of mistakes, and I was more and more drawn to that anger stuff, musically. When I was younger, I thought that strength was like a rock. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realised that strength is like water. But it’s been a long road to get to that and lots of bad things happened along the way.”
‘Robo Coin’ – Lucky Amour
Frichot’s ability to face emotional hardship and learn from it is admirable. He was particularly tested in 1999, when his former partner abducted their children.
“That was really hard,” he says, “but it was in so many ways a turning point because I got so angry and disturbed during that time, I had to begin to understand about letting go of things.”
By this time Frichot had become ensconced in the national touring scene, but his artistic work had not let up. In fact, it was quite the opposite, as he went from doing poster art for local gigs to becoming a go-to artist for national and international artists touring Australia.
On breaks from touring, he would not only be working on poster designs for upcoming concert tours, but, as an artist without any formal training, create opportunities to be able to refine his approach and learn new techniques from the best artists he could find.
“When I was 18, I didn’t have a home. I had no money, and I was keen to try and figure any which way I could to learn whatever skills that I could so that I could do something with my life that I was interested in, as opposed to just being trapped. That has actually become a bit of a habit… trying to learn on the run.
“I would beg, borrow or steal any opportunity I got to learn from anyone.”
During these early years, Frichot shared a house with an illustrator who worked at Perth’s daily newspaper, The West Australian, where there were 20 full-time artists in the artroom.
“Every night someone had to be in the studio on call in case there was a late-breaking story that they needed an illustration for,” Frichot explains. “So there’d be a rotation with this crowd where every night someone would do the 7-12 shift.
“He had introduced me to these guys so that I could go in there at night while they were sitting around doing nothing and I could use one of the workstations. So I’d be there going, ‘how do you do this? How do you do that?’ I’d be there two or three nights a week, just trying to extract as much information out of all these different artists as I could. They gave me some technical points although I’m sure they kept much of their special sauce for themselves.”
Nonetheless, it opened things up for Frichot, as he was seeing first-hand how artists operated in what was, at that time, the best commercial illustration studio in WA.
“It was much better than what you could get taught in an institution,” he says, “these were the professionals. I did that for about a year, and I was really lucky to have gotten that exposure.”
‘Lucky Sailor’ – Lucky Amour
The learning on the run approach and the eternal thirst for popular culture continued from 1999-2001 when Frichot formed the rockabilly-inspired The Hot Rod Sinners with drummer Eddie Fury (Fireballs) and Andy Burnaway (The Convertibles). He revelled in yet another new and interesting cultural experience.
“I think a lot of my really interesting exposure to a lot of retro culture was from my time with Eddie and Andy,” he says. “They were absolute connoisseurs of everything vintage. They were those guys that had the old cars and the old clothes, and a million records and they knew every artist from this, that and the other. Andy used to collect all these postcards and stickers and this stuff that I thought was so cool. All of it, I just loved and got really interested in all of those things.”
It was through Fury that Frichot met acclaimed US graphic/poster artist Frank Kozik in 1998 at his San Francisco studio. It was to be another revelation.
“I was looking around at a lot of the work that was going on,” Frichot recalls. “I went out to Frank’s studio and it was incredible. His factory set-up was amazing and what he was doing with silk-screening posters was super cool. At the time I was 25 and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world and it fitted in with everything that I had dreamed about doing, because I was already doing a lot of poster stuff and I couldn’t get enough of opportunities of doing posters for bands. That was another bit of nitro in the engine – the inspiration of visiting him and seeing where it could go.”
Suitably inspired, Frichot returned home with the intention of stepping things up, in terms of both artistry and making a living from art. He started Frichot Design Factory…
“It’s just this never-ending series of steps from then on where you just keep trying to push and improve and push and improve.”
As the 2000s motored along, Design Factory was followed by Knucklehead TV, which (in name) begat a fashion label Knucklehead Shipping Co., which Frichot co-founded with several music-and-style-minded cohorts. Frichot’s music clients included the likes of Nick Cave, Foo Fighters, The Hives and more. Meanwhile he formed the surf-guitar-meets-desert-highway outfit Day Of The Dead, a band whose very existence echoes his own overall artistic development.
“Ironically, I feel I’ve gone full circle and I have an appreciation for the simple, pure idea that isn’t encumbered by all these contrived technical layers,” he says. “It’s like that old gag – good taste is knowing how to play the piano accordion but choosing not to.
“I think musically I’ve ended up going more in that way. Day Of The Dead is a good example of that, just good tones and really melodic stuff that was fun to play, as opposed to ‘look how tricky we are’.”
Frichot also maintained a steady line in commercial work for the likes of Brookfield Multiplex, SAS and Australian Army regiments, Barbagallo Motors, Homesmith and a multitude of liquor brands, venues, promoters and… hospitals.
“I’ve always loved art, illustration and graphic design,” Frichot says. “For me the lines between them are very blurred.”
The unleashed creativity of poster art (which feeds into the fantasy worlds of Lucky Amour) is where he truly saddles up.
“When you get a brief to do a poster for someone and you’ve got a lot of creative license over making some sort of a giant robot elephant or a space station in the shape of a skull or whatever it is, that represents to me not only a great opportunity to explore imagination and creativity, but there would always be a technical challenge in how I would achieve the outcome that I was after.
“And again, in not being trained I think there’s something of a clumsiness to my work. Which ends up giving it character in some ways, or perhaps childishness is a better word (laughs).”
Then there’s the sunglasses. Looking for a creative outlet of his own during a long stretch of commercial work and having long been forced to wear glasses due to eye problems, Frichot brought the old-school, classic aesthetics he loved to eyewear. Enter Dillinger Optics – over-engineered, high-end and handmade in Japan by masters of the craft.
“I thought, ‘what a great product!’. One size fits all; at least that’s what I thought at the time, but it isn’t true. ‘It’s small and you can ship to the world and how hard could it be?’
“Turns out it’s really hard. So that was a long and self-taught journey on how to design a pair of glasses, what they’re made of, what the difference is in terms of where they’re made. That was a long journey. To eventually get to the point of the product that we have now, I’m really proud of it all. They are beautiful, but far out, it was hard to get there.
“And it’s only really just begun, to be honest. If that’s an idea that started five or six years ago, I’d say that’s four years of very expensive trial and error and research and a year of actually getting stuff that we’re really proud of and can sell. But that was a big investment and of time as well. I mean if I was charging someone that would be a very expensive job!”
It’s looking like it’s worth it. Dillinger Optics was recently showcased in The Telegraph (UK) on the front page and inside-spread of its men’s fashion lift-out, Luxury. It made for incredible exposure.
Telegraph (UK) Luxury September 2021 Cover
Similarly, the international interest now shown in the art of Lucky Amour is what Frichot good-naturedly describes as “a 30-year overnight success.” His sign-up to the Lyons Gallery, who operate three main galleries in Australia – Melbourne, Sydney and Port Douglas – and have affiliations with galleries around the world, particularly in the UK – is a significant moment in his career as an artist.
“Lots of different good things have always happened which have kept me going and I’ve got lots to be grateful for,” he notes. “There have been lots of people who’ve been really supportive and lots of good things that have happened, but at the moment there’s a nexus of really exciting international, purely artistic opportunities which is literally a dream come true for me. Simple as that.”
‘Milk Bar’ – Lucky Amour
Frichot looks up and around the walls of his Fremantle home. They’re adorned with Lucky Amour originals, a rogues-and-roses gallery that mashes and mixes and twists timelines with beautiful, fanciful evocations of Elvis Presley, Ava Gardner, Marilyn Monroe, Paul Newman, Audrey Hepburn, Lee Marvin and Bridget Bardot among assorted cars, skulls and robots from the 1950’s. It’s post-modern, past-gloried and future-storied; reduxed, refit and remodelled for the new now.
An endless collection of riffs. They’re selling well, too.
“I’m mixed between extreme gratitude, extreme excitement and a little bit of nervousness that I hope that nothing goes wrong,” Frichot admits.
“Or that anything interrupts it. Even then I need to push that thinking aside, because it is what it is and it’ll be what it’ll be and all you can do is the best you can do. The other thing is I actually really love doing it all and what’s really exciting about that is if you can achieve some success around doing something like that which I’m so invested in and passionate about, then every day is exciting.
“There’s every reason to bounce out of bed every morning just to make more.”
The Works Of Lucky Amour, AKA Ben Frichot, Available From The Lyons Gallery