Thursday, January 28, 2010

On my walls, part II- FRAZETTA



Yes, I put his name in caps.

What can I say? I have been a Frazetta geek since I first discovered comics and illustration in the early 70's. I was fortunate at around 13 or 14 years old to meet an equally distracted soul who was also consumed by drawing and collecting. My friends name was Jon Victor and through weekly meetings, mostly held by riding my bike (no speeds, no frills- God I loved that thing) to his house several miles away in another neighborhood, we fed each other's mutual passion for telling stories with pictures.



Once in his bedroom, a comic geeks paradise, we might proceed to weigh the merit of Berni Wrightson's latest Swamp Thing comic, or bask in the warmth of a vintage Wally Wood story in a prized issue of Weird Science Fantasy or debate which of the Crusty Bunkers actually inked that page in the latest Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.
Then we would compare our latest drawings. Every week or so, we would show each other what we had been working on, inspired by heroes outside of drawing as well- from Gene Roddenberry ( Star Trek was still decades away from it's many reincarnations), to Rod Serling to Ray Harryhausen. Jon was much more technically proficient than I and a tough critic to boot. This was a good thing, of course. It made me try harder. And whether he ever knew it or not, for me it was a competition and I worked hard to improve my drawing to make sure I was ready for the next throw-down. Jon was also much more comfortable with color and it took me many years to finally figure out how to use it in any way resembling competence. I was lucky to have a friend like him at a time when I was just beginning to find my legs as an artist. We kept each other honest and inspired.
Again, it was the 70's and The Studio was at it's peak-- Jeff Jones was producing his finest pages for Idyl, Mike Kaluta was dazzling us with art deco inspired masterpieces for The Shadow and of course, Wrightson, whose work walked that fine line between humor and horror. He would leave an indelible impression on a legion of future illustrators and comic artists, myself included.

And then there was Frank Frazetta.




It was Jon who first introduced me to his work. He pulled out samples from a precious manilla folder he had painstakingly compiled of images carefully cut from paperbacks, magazines and comicbooks. Some of them were holy grails- cheezy Sci-Fi and fantasy novels from the 1960's that would never see print again and covers from magazines like Warren's Creepy and Eerie, the last bastion for many of the great artists from the EC Comics days, all adorned with Frazetta's fantastic tableaus. With the authority of a veteran collector- he was a good five years older- Jon would make his case for the superiority of one painting over the other and I would make my own impassioned case, for or against. It was fun debating which were best, especially because it was such a futile excercise- there were simply too many favorites to choose from. Frazetta's work took my breath away. If there is a common thread through the work of most of the artists I collect, it is their ability to draw from the imagination. The artists who seem to inspire me most are the ones who somehow successfully blend the facts with the fiction, at least enough to tell their visual story best. Kley had it, Bauer had it and so did Wrightson and his Studio mates. It's difficult to distill exactly what it is I enjoy most about Frazetta, but it certainly has much to do with his distillation of shapes. The choices he makes for a fold of drape or shape of a shadow- are part of his magic. It's what he doesn't show, that is so tantalizing. A warriors face might be beautifully rendered, along with his shoulders and part of the pelt he is wearing, but the rest of his body might disappear under a carefully shaped shadow intimating perfectly the form underneath, but without us seeing a thing. Loathe as I am to say it, Carter Goodrich's work has this in spades.
Frazetta's brushwork was so deft and economical and his images often only glorified vignettes, but what was in focus, ignited my imagination and made me want to know what was beyond the edges of those scenes, for surely I was seeing only a piece of a fully realized universe.




I quickly became an obsessive collector of virtually anything the guy had put his hand to. I combed every used book shop I would pass for years, my head tilted at the shelves, looking for any of the titles that had by now been branded into my skull. Looking back I realize, by scanning the covers of thousands of books that weren't Frazetta's, I was unwittingly taking myself to school in the art of illustration, and soon came to know the names of countless other illustrators by default. I still have my collection of books, magazines and compendiums that make up most of Frazetta's ouevre and still have an almost Pavlovian response when I go into a bookstore. I tell myself I'm done collecting, but in the back of my brain, I can't help keep my eye out for one that might have gotten away.




I think ebay has become a wish fulfilled for those kids in us that never quite sated their particular obsessions and I am certainly one of them. So when I grew older and had achieved something of a career, I was actually able to purchase an original sketch or two. To my continued amazement, I was able to get my hands on a few of Frazetta's color preliminary thumbnails. And I do mean thumbnails. They are astonishing, not only for their resemblance to the much larger oil paintings that followed, but for their tiny size. The biggest one is no larger than five inches across. And like many of his studies, these tiny little watercolor sketches are fresher and more beautiful than the final piece.

So it is with way too much pride, that I show you part of my Frazetta collection above and hope that you will enjoy them half as much as I still do, every single day.

28 comments:

  1. I remember when I first came across his work when I was in Junior High. I understand completely what you mean by Pavlovian response. Thanks for sharing these!

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  2. Great post! Can't really think of any artist out there who beats Frazetta. I seriously can't think of one... His art is the gift that keeps on giving. There's something new that is delivered in each piece when you look at it that you didn't see before. I like your comment about the shape of shadows and drapery that he uses. It's those types of design choices that he makes that sets him apart from all the other artists. So I guess most of your collection of sketches are featured in the Frazetta Rough Works book as these seem to look familiar. Thanks for sharing them!

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  3. How bout a show of hands of those inspired by the master, one, two, three... Thousands...! I had a subscription to Creepy & Eerie in middle school and his covers always blew me away. They do to this day. It's great to hang out with such distinguished Frazettaphyles. Thanks for sharing these incredible works.

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  4. Frazetta has always been one of the "ultimate's" in the art world, to me. Before coming to art school, Frazetta and Norman Rockwell were the only two illustrators that I knew of. Painting with Fire really opened my eyes to Frazetta's un-championed legacy. He can do ANYTHING.

    I haven't a career to call my own, although they still remain as huge influences on my work. As always, thank-you for sharing your wonderful collection! I look forward to more.

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  5. Thank you for sharing your collection & stories, Peter. They're wonderful!

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  6. Frazetta is a legend. i always love seeing more of his work. This post was a great read, thanks for posting.

    Geo

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  7. Frazetta lo ha sido todo para mi en esta vida. Su trabajo ha sido fuente de inspiración en el mio. No cabe duda de que tu y el señor Frazetta estais en mi lista de los mejores dibujantes/ilustradores del mundo. If you want to see some of my work, visit wwww.joseramongallego.webcindario.com
    Thanks Peter.

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  8. I didn't know you had all these, you madman. now I really have to come by next time i'm out- Ill pass out from all your art AND the Frazettas....

    Best,
    Craig

    Craig Elliott Gallery

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  9. I have a picture of myself and Frank in his studio with the new Death Dealer painting. A day I'll never forget because we travelled all that way but never got to see the gallery. His wife had passed away the day before and he didn't have the key. Couldn't beleive how nice he was.

    Bryan

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  10. Amazing stuff Peter. Glad I tracked this down. Always inspiring to see your work. Nice to see who inspires you as well. Hope things are well with you.

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  11. I remember sometime in the 1980s at the ONLY Frazetta Convention being with my then apartment mate Michael Kaluta and getting a tour of the house by Frank himself. Burned into my brain that day is.

    Best,
    Charles Vess

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  12. '...that I show you part of my Frazetta collection...'

    - that means there's MORE?!

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  13. One of the best, indeed.. inspiring sketches and pencil drawings.
    Thanks for sharing

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  14. Fazetta's artwork has inspired many artist. His pieces are amazing. This guy rocks!

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  15. There is before and after Frazetta !
    Il y a avant et après Frazetta !

    There is a big difference between Peter and Frazetta.
    Frazetta drew many women nude on the cover of novels.
    Peter prefers to put naked men on the cover of New Yorker!

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  16. 1970. Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club, Edgar Rice Burroughs, "A Princess of Mars", with a Frazetta cover and interior B&W's was delivered to the home of 12 year old Greg Spalenka. He has not been the same since!

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  17. A very impressive collection of 'original art', Peter.. Well done!
    I consider myself a kindred spirit.. I too, have been obsessed with FRAZETTA my entire life! Particularly, his comic-book output.. Sadly, I don't have the moolah to buy/own any of that wonderful material.. But recently, I was fortunate enough to get full sets of "at size" color xeroxes of some of Frazetta's 50's-era Romance story art. They were part of the Dave Stevens estate.
    They're about as close to owning the 'original art' as I imagine I'll ever get! hah
    I've got a few posts on my blog, about FRAZETTA.. Hope you'll take a look?
    http://wangdangdoodles.blogspot.com/

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  18. I had a similar experience of following a daisy chain of influences that for me started with Wrightson's "Swamp Thing". That led to the Studio book and various collected interviews. Onto Jones, then Frazetta and NC Wyeth and Pyle and on and on. A fun trip that isn't over.

    The release of Frazetta's watercolor studies in recent years has really been enlightening. All the color, design and storytelling is all there in these little windows to his world.

    I'm hoping there's a Part III to this series coming.

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  19. Frazetta is awesome... like others I discovered him in my early teens and my mouth drops open no matter how many times I see his stuff over and over.

    You would (and probably do) enjoy Jack Davis... fluid motion, great drawing, cross-hatching maestro...
    http://www.endlessgroove.com/issue5/jdintro.htm

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  20. Wow what an awesome collection! Very cool, thanks for sharing these Peter! Hope you're doing well.

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  21. Thanks for the memories Peter, that was not unlike a description my my own youth. Much appreciated.

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  22. Saw the oil version of the Death Dealer watercolor sketch on the Master's easel late in 2009, shortly before the sad fiasco that is taking place within the family started. Wish I could say the oil was great, but alas, no. The sketch you posted is wonderful, as are the other pieces in this group. Thank you for sharing it with us.

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  23. by the way - the one that has the greatest impact for me is the giant lizard sketch: It's a beauty and brings me back to the day I picked up the first volume of the God-sent Frazetta Ballantine book in 1975. In spite of my round through art history and many love affairs with great masters, Frazetta, like no other artist, still inspires a visceral sensation in me, that is impossible to explain!

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  24. Hi Peter,

    I recently stumbled across your wonderful tribute to the late great master of fantasy art, Mr. Frank Frazetta, and wanted to invite you to share your original art collection with many others of like mind at www.comicartfans.com I too am an avid Frazetta fan and collector -- although my collection pales in comparison to yours. I'm sure many others would enjoy seeing your collection at comicartfans, and I would like to be the first to welcome you if you do decide to join us.

    Sincerely,

    Alex K.

    P.S.- I'm also hoping that you might have some of your own original art to share as well. :)

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