April 04, 2010

Frank Frazetta (Part 1)

There is little doubt that Frank Frazetta is the king of fantasy adventure & science fiction art. I've always found Frazetta's art to be stunning and recently, I became the proud owner of a signed, original sketch by the master of fantasy art himself and I am VERY excited about it. But before I show it here, I'm going to write a few posts about him. In doing some research to try to date my sketch, I've discovered Frazetta all over again. If you're not familiar with his name, you've probably seen his work somewhere.

When it comes to talent and technique, Frank Frazetta is like Bruce Lee. He just kicks out the light bulb on the ceiling with an unexpected motion of intensity and precision. His style is truly unique and his power makes your eyes widen. There's been a long line of Frazetta imitators, some of them very good painters... but their over-posed heroes turn out looking cheesy in comparison. We shouldn't be too harsh on them, however, because they've also been mesmerized by his amazing compositions.

Frazetta began his career doing comics, and in the 50's he began illustrating Edgar Rice Burrough's Tarzan books. His illustrations of the seriously-muscular Conan for Robert E. Howard's books were so eye-catching that sales went ballistic.

I first saw Frazetta's work in a 1978 calendar and was so taken that I bought one of his art books soon after featuring the Egyptian Queen on the cover. An intriguing composition that has this sensual beauty slinking up against a massive marble column. She makes you feel the cold stone on her skin. Originally published on the cover of Eerie magazine, there's a tenseness in the room with the crouching cat and the figure in the background.

To the right is a preliminary sketch for this painting. It's interesting to see how he developed it from this stage to the final painting. Even Frazetta's pencil sketches are like little jewels that reveal his enormous natural talent and they are now going for thousands of dollars. I can't remember ever buying the work of another artist and I would only hang my own art on my walls, but that all changed when I came across a little sketch of Conan that I just couldn't resist.

One thing that fascinated me is the way he would leave detail out in certain areas... something I've always had difficulty doing. I'll nitpick over every toenail whereas Frank won't even include the lower legs. His choices of what to leave out are brilliant. The details just fall away into the shadows. They become obscured by smoke or fog or the dust kicked up by the battle. Creatures emerge from the canvas similar to the way the presidents on Rushmore emerge from the mountain.
Neanderthals rush toward you from an orange mist... and they have only one intent... to club the life out of you.

Frazetta loves to toy around with our fears. Of course, years of creating covers for publications like Creepy, Eerie and
Vampirella had him working from that state of mind.

In Bran Mak Morn to the right, he again uses top light to accentuate the big brows on the primitive's apelike features. The long, dark shadow under the tribal leader's face creates powerful contrast. Top light like this is used often in theatrical lighting to create drama on the figure.

The painting of the Captive Princess below skillfully plays with contrasts between cool and warm colors, light and shadow, soft and hard textures, and between what is in motion and what is poised in place. She reaches in desperation for something to grab onto that isn't there.

The musculature and veins are exaggerated but believable, and the color choices are unorthodox... geez, Frazetta would hurl big splotches of green and purple paint right on the skin, but you don't even notice it! It all just works in some dynamic way and seems to emphasize the action.

Just look at the patchwork of paint dabs he lays down on the back of Conan in his painting called Chained. Those muscles aren't real. Frazetta didn't ask a model to pose for him for this. That's just his mind imagining the muscular back of Conan. It works! Because of the passion he brings to the canvas.

Read the rest of this series on Frank Frazetta by Mark Astrella.
Frazetta Part 2
Frazetta Part 3
Frazetta Part 4
Frazetta Part 5
Frazetta Part 6

To see the most recent blog posts, click on the logo header at the top of the page (A Burning Designer)

No comments:

Post a Comment