1. What were your parents like?
Mum was very arty. She loved making things out of the Woman's Weekly. Egyptian friezes, Goldie portraits painted on plates, the house was full of it. My father was a very dry engineer at a freezing works. He was quite an intellect, he loved great discussions, but they were always half-pissed rants about liberals. So he was a mixed-up kind of a dude really. He always went straight to the pub after work. His dinner would be kept with a plate over it in the oven. He used to say, "I'm not an alcoholic, I'm a drunkard." Quite a fine distinction. But I think they loved each other.
2. What's your own relationship with alcohol?
I'm pretty keen on it, yeah. Jude and I like a drink. We have our little parties. Most nights. But it was only when I had my big midlife-crisis-mental-block-breakdown thing at 43 that I drank far too much.
3. What were you like as a teenager?
I was the only arty guy in the whole of Hastings, pretty much. I had one eccentric friend, we used to parade around town on Friday nights. We always had the latest haircuts. Then when I went to art school in Christchurch I looked around and realised I was with the only freak from Timaru, the only freak from Ashburton. It was like 'Yay!' And all the girls looked exactly like you hoped they would with black eyeliner and black stockings. Jude? Oh, she was gorgeous. I just thought wow, that'll do.
4. You married at 21. Were you and Jude expecting a child?
No, no. The baby was born then. Juliet. It was 1964, I was 20. I didn't want to tell my Mum and Dad what was going on. But you couldn't get married without parental consent until you were 21, so we had to wait. After we were married, I told them. Dad wrote one of his outraged letters in engineer's handwriting which is all block capitals. HOW DARE YOU NOT TRUST YOUR MOTHER TO UNDERSTAND.
5. Can you tell me about the advertising industry in the 1970s?
I worked for Bob Harvey who was crazy - good crazy. One time we all had to go out to his house in Henderson while he showed us the latest thing from America. It was on Super 8, he had a projector. And it was Sesame Street. The colours and the vivacity and the brashness - Bob wanted us to make everything look like that.
6. Your art career took off when you began painting tins of fish. Where did that idea come from?
We lived over in St Marys Bay, before it got totally flash. My youngest boy, Otis, had a Samoan or Tongan friend called Michael who came for lunch and brought a tin of mackerel. Now we never had tins of mackerel in our flash foodie pantry, obviously, because we were young trendies. I picked it up and looked at the slice of fish and the letters across the top PLAZA. I took it out to the studio and rendered it up with this cheap shit enamel paint I was using as a kind of punk statement. It felt like a bone fide epiphany - doiiinggg!!! I had advertising nous so when I had an exhibition I got all my mates who were Radio Hauraki DJs to talk about it. I got posters run up and T-shirts printed. You couldn't get into these shows, seriously. At the opening we had Jude and all our friends' wives dressed as mermaids in this big sea of cellophane singing this song about olive oil and salt and all the stuff off the labels. Then we carried in a big sardine tin on our shoulders and when I opened it with this giant key, two people came out in these fish suits and did a salmon mating dance where they kind of rubbed each other. Unbelievable!
7. You mentioned your midlife crisis at 43 - what was that about?
I ran out of ideas. Actually, I ran out of idea. I only had one. It was the fish cans and all this semi-comic-book stuff. One exhibition seemed to seed the next and then it just stopped and there was nothing there. By then people were calling me an artist. I finally got there and I had nothing to paint.
8. How did you get out of the rut?
I was so desperate I came up with probably the best idea I've had in my career: instead of being a non-artist I'd just be a bad artist. I jumped on painting landscapes. The critics didn't like it but people were buying them. Christ yes. I was getting $4000 for a landscape which was good money in the 80s. Then I had my first exhibition of tiki paintings and - boom. I was credible again.
9. Some people found those tiki paintings offensive - what was your take on that?
My take was that this conversation can't just flow one way. You can't have Ralph Hotere using Western art tropes and then have the culture tell me that I can't use Eastern art tropes. And the other thing that I understood, better than anyone else I think, was that it can't all be good. They were trying to ring-fence Maori art and keep it pure. You can't, you've got to have the trash. I went off on a literal tiki tour to gather references and noticed that all the cheesy tiki motel signs in Rotorua had gone. They took the plastic tikis away from Air New Zealand. There had been this huge cultural culling and it was well-meant but it was very wrong-headed.
10. Did any of the controversy make you uncomfortable?
At the opening of that exhibition, my knees were shaking. I had a posse of very angry Maori feminists bail me up and tell me I was a bad person. In all the media, I was branded a spiritual assassin. A wonderful thing was that Otis was a rapper then and he had a whole lot of young Maori rapping mates who used to come around and they absolutely loved what I was doing. They went away thinking, "well maybe I don't have to rap what the kaumatua tells me to rap. Maybe I can rap whatever the hell I like".
11. Is the Dick Frizzell who gets involved in commercial projects different from the artist?
I can spend half the day on a painting and the other half on an advertising campaign and I don't make any kind of moral or value distinction. Art's harder, don't get me wrong. But I thought it was huge that Vogel's decided to get together with Dick Frizzell in a campaign.
12. Do you still attract controversy?
Yeah, I've got a few trolls who like to have a go at me. It doesn't bother me in any real way. Sorry for being so awful, or sorry for being lucky.
• Dick Frizzell is involved with Cooking for Change, a cookbook of recipes by famous New Zealanders to be released next year with proceeds going to Auckland City Mission, Paw Justice, The Starship Foundation, and Leukaemia and Blood Cancer New Zealand. To donate to the kickstarter for the book, go to cooking4change.co.nz.