One of the greatest artists of this era passed away on May 10. Frank Frazetta was responsible for so many fantastic pieces of fantasy art, there have already been 3 major art books collecting just his painting in that genre, as well as many other books, catalogs, prints, posters, etc, reproducing his work in all areas. I've been a fan of his work probably since before I even realized it. When I was a young teenager, I used to enjoy reading Conan novels, and many of his amazing paintings have graced the cover of those books. His Conan is the definitive version, filled with power, emotion, action, and almost always at least one voluptuous babe.
Frazetta is often put in the same category as Boris Vallejo, but I have always been of the opinion that Frazetta is vastly superior. Vallejo's work always revolves around a perfectly posed person, in an obvious fake position (that no one in whatever situation the painting involves would find themselves in) to better flex the perfectly smooth oiled muscles. No one in Vallejo's paintings ever has anything wrong with them, and that's precisely what's wrong with the paintings. The people have no character, no history...no interest. They were obviously just muscle bound models posing for a painting. Kinda boring.
Frazetta’s subjects, on the other hand, all have interesting characteristics about them. For one thing, his paintings are completely out of his head. No models posing, no photographic reference, nothing of the sort. No woman in any of his paintings would ever be caught on the cover of a modern fashion magazine, because they've all got some meat on them, dammit! They've all got curves that are amazing, and are giving stunning, sultry looks, and they are all beautiful. The creatures that are often the protagonists in his paintings are the stuff of nightmares, which you obviously couldn’t have photographic reference for. And as for the men, whether it be Conan or Tarzan or some random adventure hero, they have all obviously lived a life before the moment of that painting. They've got scars, they've got hair flying all over the place, they’ve got gritted teeth, they've got emotion...they've got life!
Frazetta’s paintings, while not photo-realistic, are as real as real life for one big reason; they’re not perfect. They aren’t overly polished. They have a rough, dirty quality to them that makes them look as if, however fantastic the situation being depicted may be, that you could step into the world in that painting. It’s easier to accept something that isn’t perfect, because, obviously, neither is the world we live in, nor ourselves.
Frazetta, the man, also has another meaning for me on a completely personal level. There is a definite resemblance to the younger Frazetta (from the 1950’s; the picture below is a 25 year old Frazetta in 1953), to my father from roughly the same time. Frazetta, born in 1928, was 6 years older than my father, who is still alive. I have an image burned in my mind of a photo of my father from probably the early 1960’s, when he would have been in his late 20’s, and I see a great similarity to Frazetta of about the same age and era. They both had the James Dean quality of good looks going for them. Young, trim, athletic. My mom has the picture in question somewhere in their home in New York. I’ll have to make a point of finding it when I go back for my next visit.
Also, my father has been an artist, strictly as a hobby, for pretty much all his life, and his specialty, much like Frazetta, was oil painting. He’s worked in all mediums, but his oil paintings were what he concentrated most on, and produced his best work in. My favorite painting of his, a tiger that he saw in a magazine ad somewhere, is the one painting I asked to take with me when I moved out here to Las Vegas over 10 years ago. It’s been hanging proudly on the wall over the fireplace since I first moved into my house back in July 2001. There are also several Frazetta prints on the walls around the house, and I think it’s rather special that both Frazetta and my father share some of the same space.
Thanks to frankfrazetta.org for the images, except the tiger painting, which I took a picture of with my iPhone...
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