The American illustrator Frank Frazetta (1928-2010) is probably the most influential visual artist of the last half-century. The “Frazetta style” can be recognized in the work of many contemporary artists such as Boris Vallejo, Don Maitz, Simon Bisley, Michael Walen, and Jeff Jones.
Power and Drama
The things that speak most about his work is the power and the drama it evokes. 'It's the immediate impact, it rocks your foundation and hits you right between the eyes,' as the American fantasy artist Bill Stout put it in the documentary Frazetta: Painting with Fire (added below).
Frazetta was born in Brooklyn, New York and had dual talents in drawing and athletics from childhood. He won the Most Valuable Player Award and batted .487 in his Parade Grounds Baseball League and received several offers to play professional baseball. At the same time, he had been selling comic book drawings beginning in his second year of high school.
The Age of Eight
His talent for drawing had already been noticed by primary school teachers (he drew better than all other children regardless of age) and therefore attended the Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts at the age of eight. This little school was run by the Italian fine artist Michel Falanga, and Frazetta would later claim that he hadn't really learned much from him. He encouraged more than he instructed, and therefore learned more from his friends around him like Albert Pucci.
At the age of sixteen he started doing illustrations for Standard Publishing. This in turn led to work with other publishers publishing other genres such as westerns, horror, and mystery. Frazetta even published his own comic that he started early in his childhood and finished by the age of 15, the eight page story 'The Adventures of the Snowman ' (Fig.2).
Some of his best works of this time are the covers for the Buck Rogers comics which he did for “Famous Funnies,” as well as his work with Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella. It is characterized by a mixture of sex, violence, melodramatic action, exaggerated anatomy, and exotic impossible settings - and he makes it all work. His line drawings give a vitality to the compositions. They're almost in movement when they're in pose..
Tarzan in the Lost Empire
In 1962, Frazetta was given the job of working on Tarzan in the Lost Empire which was the very first Tarzan book he did a cover for (Fig.3). He was paid $150,- and was not allowed to keep the original. But soon his covers became so popular that they alone could sell the book regardless of what was on the inside.
Frazetta's painting of Beatle Ringo Starr for a Mad magazine in 1964 caught the eye of United Artists studios. He was approached to do the movie poster for What's New Pussycat?, and earned the equivalent of his yearly salary in one afternoon. After this assignment he did several other movie posters like The Gauntlet (with Clint Eastwood), Conan the Barbarian (Fig.9) the animation movie Fire and Ice (that was based on his art), Polanski's The Fearless Vampire Killers and Mad Max (Fig.5)
Eerie and Creepy
When Frazetta's work began to appear in Eerie and Creepy and other magazines in the late 1960s, his images were so dynamic and powerful that other artists felt that they had to try ti live up to his standards. But no one really reached the elevation he presented. At this stage of his career, publishers approached him to do the cover work on the basis of the paintings he already produced.
Already early in his career Frazetta realized that he had to keep the original oil painting when he did commissioned work. When his first sketches were placed on the market in the early 1970s they sold for $35,- nowadays a great Farzetta sketch will sell for $10000,-, his watercolors have sold for up to $50000,-, and his oil paintings have sold for up to hundreds of thousands of dollars and some even millions. As the art market has gone up and down, the price for Frazetta originals has continuously gone up.
Frank’s personal life began with violence on the streets of Brooklyn and included a solid reputation as a handsome, athletic and charming ladies man. At the age of 24, however, he found stability and love in the form of 17-year old Eleanor Kelly. They were married after a four-year courtship and eventually found their way to the modest acreage in Pennsylvania where they live to this day, raising a large family and enjoying country life.
Draw with His Left Hand
Until their death (Eleanor died in 2009 and Frank a year later) their acreage was home to a museum of Frazetta’s work which still attracts fans from all over the world. The artist enjoyed his old age and his family although his work was somewhat limited by health problems such as a thyroid condition and the effects of several strokes. After a major stroke in 1996, the right-handed Frazetta had to learn to draw with his left hand.
I came across a nice anecdote about the above painting (Fig.2). Here we see Tarzan, held by two attractive bare-breasted escorts, standing before Queen La of Opar. It is a fine example of Frazetta's great skill in depicting naked bodies. In 1994, the art dealer Alex Acevedo was on a buying spree and tried to obtain all the original Frazetta art he could get his hands on.
In Frazetta's studio he came across this watercolor that was actually intended for private use. Although Acevedo wanted to buy the piece, Frazetta was very reluctant because of its pornographic nature. Tarzan was shown with a huge erection. This gave the piece its masterful sensuality. One of the slave girls was looking down at the erection with obvious lust in her eyes. The Queen was lifting herself off the throne and thrusting her pubic area in Tarzan's direction. Frazetta had put a lot of work into the details.
Acevedo loved it, and offered $45000,- for the piece. Eventually, Frazetta agreed under the condition that he would remove the penis. Alex agreed. Frazetta collector and friend Dave Winiewicz was present and watched this scenario play out before his eyes. "My God, Frank, you can't take out that penis. It will ruin the piece." I said it calmly and quietly while Alex was looking at other potential acquisitions. Frank simply said: "I can draw another one."
Scraped Off the Penis
Winiewicz continues, "Frank got out his gouache bottles and a little water. In a few minutes he had scraped off the penis and flawlessly filled-in the open area. He matched every tone perfectly. It was an amazing thing to see. It is impossible to see that anything different was there before. I was always bothered by the composition missing that central energizing element. It was the whole reason for the idea in the first place. In typical fashion, and this fact would be an ongoing source of frustration with me, Frank did not take any pictures of the piece in its original state. What a loss! What a travesty! I had hopes that he would place the original back to its former state. He did not." (fritzfrazetta.blogspot.com/)
Frank Frazetta’s ‘Egyptian Queen’ (Fig.3) broke a world record for $5,400,000 on 16 May 2019 at Heritage Auctions. is now the most expensive piece of original comic book art ever auctioned. The previous record was the $1.79 million paid for Frazetta’s “Death Dealer 6,” 1990, which was set by Heritage in May 2018.
Return of the Jedi
Egyptian Queen was used for the cover of Eerie magazine #23, and as multiple prints and posters over subsequent decades. The costume designers of Return of the Jedi (1983) also took inspiration from the painting for Princess Leia's Gold Bikini (Fig.7b).
This painting was issued in a fold out insert for “The Playboy Gallery” in a 1986 issue of Playboy magazine and is therefore better known under the title "Playboy"
The iconic Conan painting. Conan, grim, blood-stained, naked but for a loin-cloth, shackles on his mighty limbs, his blue eyes blazing beneath the tangled black mane which fell over his low broad forehead. Standing on a pile of corpses, a naked, adoring Red Sonja at his feet.
Darker Side of Human Nature
It's not just a picture of some little fantasy character. You're looking at a picture of the twentieth century. The evil that's coming out of the earth going up the sword emanating and resonating from the face and beyond that Frazetta is not only drawing the picture of the twentieth century but he's drawing the picture of the darker side of human nature. The image was later used for the first poster of Conan the Barbarian (1982) featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Desperate Damsel in Distress
This is another stunning piece that allows Frazetta's skills to shine... a moody, foreboding setting, ape-like sub-humans, and of course the desperate damsel in distress! A simply wonderful composition as you would expect from a master painter such as Frazetta
Cover for “Flash For Freedom.” Frazetta’s women are voluptuous — the Frazetta Ass is iconic among those of us who can appreciate such things. I’m sure that such images as this one send the more puritanical feminists up a tree, but look at it another way: Frazetta was a pioneer in portraying positive body image.
The harmony of shadow effect, threatening cat silhouettes, the fluffy moss green, the incidence of light, the composition with the large branches crossing each other and the naked white female figure dominating her environment and the image, make this one of the best sensual images in fantasy art (Fig.39). Frazetta himself considered this his best work and made several versions on the subject (Fig.39c and d)
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Sources: shrineodreams.wordpress.com/, erotic-fantasy-art.com/, Wikipedia.org, Raggedclaws.com, Hoodedutilitarian.com, frontierpartisans.com/, ComicArtFans.com, fritzfrazetta.blogspot.com/*
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