Monday, June 07, 2010


The recent passing of Frank Frazetta finally spurred me on to get the book, Icon: A Retrospective by the Grand Master of Fantastic Art. I've had my eye on it for years. But I'm cheap, and I’ve always been able to see his work other places: book covers and comics and on the ‘net. The book arrived the other day and when I opened it up, it knocked my socks off. The ‘net and book covers and comic books are simply too small to convey the power of his work. When you can actually see the weave of the canvas, when you can actually see the lightness of the pigments, it really conveys that misty world of dreams feel that his work frequently captures.

In many ways, Frazetta's work bears a lot of resemblance to the you-are-there school of Elmore and Parkinson. There's the exacting anatomical detail, the wondrous creatures clearly modeled on real biologies, any expert use of light and shadow to add depth and realism. This however some vital differences. The most obvious is the backgrounds. Elmore and Parkinson have richly detailed, almost photographic landscapes. Frazetta's backgrounds are muddy, swirling colors with only hints of definition and form. Where Elmore crafted windows to other worlds, Frazetta evokes fever dreams. You could almost say that Elmore's you-are-there style and Erol Otis' fever dream-style are each facets of Frazetta's work. On his canvases the two meld seamlessly. The landscapes loom in the distance; the characters emerge from the backgrounds; the monsters rise from the terrain.

And yet, even in his most languid pieces, there is a sense of power. Often, it's physical: the swing of an ax, the charge of a horse, the fall of a body. Almost as frequently, it's sexual: the voluptuous siren, the broad shouldered barbarian, the slavering monster. His work isn’t calm and comforting, but pricks at the deepest strings of our hearts. Often, there's that same bizarre marriage of horror and nostalgia that Robert Howard can evoke.

I’ll be very curious to see what Robert Rodriguez does with a remake of Fire & Ice. I assume it’s going to be live-action, which will take us a further step away from Frazetta’s work. Still, he did such an amazing job with Sin City, I can’t help but be optimistic.


Anonymous said...

Well said, and an outstanding selection of exemplary paintings.

Sean Robson said...

I've also been tempted to buy Icon the last couple of years but, I too, have been too cheap to shell out for it. I've been intending to pick it up since Frazetta passed away, though I haven't actually gotten around to it yet, but I really want this showcase of the works of my favourite fantasy artist. You've inspired me to get off my lazy butt and buy this.

Anonymous said...

I have bought Icon, Testament and Legacy and they are all awesome Frazetta books. I am looking for a decent copy of Rough Work, his sketches now. Those books are awesome to just sit and look through on a rainy day.