The other day I saw a clip of Frank Frazetta explaining his artistic process and what made his style unique, I found it fascinating. It made me remember just how awesome he was and how little regard he has in the wider art world. There were a lot of great 20th century artists, Frank Frazetta is never counted among them and I feel this is very wrong. His impact has been felt far and wide, his influence resonates even today, undiminished.
The 20th Century was a tough time for the world of fine art. Photography had started to chip away at its foundations in the 19th century, but by the 20th century photography was cheap and ubiquitous and fine artists were having an identity crisis: if cameras can easily, speedily, and cheaply represent accurate, realistic images of the real world then why should artists ever bother to do their own versions? Want to do a family portrait, then get a photographer, so much cheaper and faster than sitting still for hours and days. Want to depict a fantastical mythological scene, then hire models and set it all up in a theater with the right backdrop etc.
This is the main reason artists turned other things like abstraction, conceptual art, primitivisim, crafts, mixed media, and so on- going where photography couldn't follow. This had the effect of changing the prevailing fashion in fine art away from the representational and replacing it with a stigma (it still had comebacks in things like hyperrealisim). But people still needed representational art in the commercial world so this fashion had the effect of splitting commercial artists away from fine art, where previously there had been zero separation; in times past the two were the same thing. Of course there really IS no difference between the two but fine art is a multi-billion dollar industry that relies on you not realising this.
It's into this world that Frazetta was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1928. He trained by copying the works of the old masters and later by working as a comic book artist, before working up to painting movie posters, book covers, and album art. He developed a unique style that artists all over the world tried to copy, it transcended the typical flat, low contrast style of cover images from the time and instead seemed to reference the classics in a new way, blending fine art with commercial subjects. His images feature beautiful, directional compositions, deep contrast (very Caravaggio), gestural and highly painterly elements, strong inherent narrative (you can see a story in every image), and they convey emotion, passion, strength, and power, better than any acclaimed work of fine art from the 20th century.
Not only that but he created his own visual vocabulary that was entirely unique: he created the LOOK of how people “should” appear in fantasy and Scifi art- their bodies, their weapons, their hair, their horses, what colours things should be, their clothes…
His art became reverse commercial art in that instead of being created to sell a thing, things were created to use his existing art to represent them. In the heyday of his popularity in the 1960s and 70s he was a seismic event in the world of illustration. When you look back at book covers from that time you can find thousands that are copies of Frazetta's style, he was so influential that it changed how people saw things like fantasy. Many famous illustrators got their start by aping Frazetta before developing their own styles. Boris Vallejo and Julie bell are two that are quite recognisable in the fantasy art world as having Frazetta influence but never quite escaping from his shadow or getting to the same fine art level of mastery.
We're in the 21st century now and representational artists are facing a new challenge, just like they did with photography over 100 years before… Just when representational art had finally shaken off the stigma of 20th century fine art segregationalisim we now face so called “AI” art directly stealing our work and repackaging it: why pay money and take the time to wait for a real artist to make something when you can ask an AI to make a fake version of it in seconds? Ironically a lot of the imagery these things produce can be traced back to Frazetta: that explosion of fantasy art from the 1970s that created its own style and influenced illustration down through the decades eventually gave birth to hundreds of thousands of copycat digital artists posting on places like Deviant art where AIs have stolen the majority of their raw material, which is why when you look at a Frazetta now you could almost be fooled into thinking it was AI art. Irony upon irony!
But what a legacy! Even fake art owes him a debit.
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Frank Frazetta, one of the greatest artists of the 20th centuryOzoneocean at 12:00AM, March 4, 2023
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hushicho at 10:05PM, March 6, 2023
Frazetta is marvellous, but please don't downplay Vallejo or Julie Bell, or Rowena Morrill, or any other fantasy art great. Frazetta was absolutely iconic, but so were all of them, and I would absolutely argue about them being in Frank's shadow...come on now. I am glad to see Frazetta appreciated though, and it's good to see it.
PaulEberhardt at 11:41AM, March 5, 2023
Imitation is the highest form of praise in a way, and if Fazetta gets that much praise he more than deserves it. Except when done by one of them stupid AI machine thingies, of course 😖. Anyone who hasn't been influenced by his work in not even one small way: raise your hands. And to those few people who raised their hands: you just haven't realised it yet. All the great artists and writers that make it into the canon are measured by how large their lasting influence was, and that unfortunately seems to mean that art and literature scholars really suck at recognising any influential masters as what they are before they haven't been dead for at least a century, in the meantime just having some fancy highbrow people and college friends warm the seats in the Hall of Fame for them. Yeah, there are some exceptions there, but that's just dumb luck, take it from me.
Ozoneocean at 8:38PM, March 4, 2023
Thanks guys! I'm glad you appreciate him too ^_^ People fawn so much over various fine artists I thought that we need to remember that many of our great "commercial" artists have been even more influential and important to our culture.
lothar at 5:47PM, March 4, 2023
Thanks Ozone, this is the guy I was trying to remember his name when I was drawing the cover for my latest comic. Heavy metal wouldn't exist without this dude.
skyangel at 10:10AM, March 4, 2023
Great article on an amazing artist! I first came across his work on the covers of the Warren mags like Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella. I could only afford to buy a couple at a time so I used to buy the ones with the best covers first which were nearly always his work. His work was so inspiring that I probably spent as much time soaking in each cover as I did reading the rest of the comic.
Ironscarf at 8:06AM, March 4, 2023
Your composite includes Dawn Attack which is one of my favourites. I wish he'd done more sci-fi, but apparently he hated it. His colour sense was something special too.
marcorossi at 6:36AM, March 4, 2023
"Of course there really IS no difference between the two but fine art is a multi-billion dollar industry that relies on you not realising this." If it looks commercial, it must be low art produced for the peasants, therefore there is no point in spending $$$ to purchase it. Since the stupid peasants are fixated with buying pleasant, cool, or at least meaningful art, the only real solution is to buy something that is meaningless, stupid and unpleasant as fine art. Don't get me wrong: I can think of a lot of situations where commercial art just aims for the most superficial pleasantness, however modern art is just risible at times. I remember an interview to a succesful sculptor, and when asked what was the meaning of his creations, he answered that he didn't want to limit the interpretation of the viewers, that is tantamount to say that he didn't know what he was doing, but he enjoyed being paid for it.
Banes at 6:30AM, March 4, 2023
Wonderful article! I’ve always said, look to Frazetta. And to that guy who made Ziggy. But then back to Frazetta. And once again to Ziggy.
fallopiancrusader at 6:27AM, March 4, 2023
The 1983 animated film "fire and ice" also included a documentary about Frazetta, which was quite interesting. The film itself was utter dreck, but the documentary part was really good.
Teh Andeh at 5:52AM, March 4, 2023
Oh this is so cool. For me it's a pretty big deal. Growing up my dad would always give high praise to Frazetta. He would draw a lot of pictures and stuff highly influenced by him.( But not as good lol) I remember my dad telling me to study him. But I was young and didn't understand what studying other arts really meant. But anyway, it's really cool to see a post about him. It's made me very nostalgic. :)
HawkandFloAdventures at 4:28AM, March 4, 2023
One of the great artists without a doubt.
MOrgan at 12:27AM, March 4, 2023
Caught part of a documentary about the art of Dungeons and Dragons and one of the artists mentioned Frazetta as an influence and I just nodded my head thinking, "Of course." I don't even remember which artist, but it just made so much sense for the time and the art jobs. Probably all of the artists at TSR were influenced by Frazetta.
Ozoneocean at 9:52AM, March 2, 2023
He had peers who went in to be influential in their own right and who AI imitates as well such as Brian Foud, Michael Whelan and more.
Ozoneocean at 7:41AM, March 2, 2023
I'll also say that the fine-art world was nothing so much as purely fascist in its rejection of representational art during most of the 20th century, particularly with modernism. It was only with the arrival of the post-modernist movement that things began to open up again.
Ozoneocean at 7:37AM, March 2, 2023
Of course he isn't without antecedents, there were illustrators and fine artists before him who crossed over in related styles; Arthur Rackham, Virgil Finley, Norman Lindsey to name a few.