Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Frazetta On Frazetta

Frazetta and I had a discussion back in 1996 about the nature of his art. He was unhappy that people kept calling him a fantasy artist and science fiction artist and, even worse, a cult artist. Frank said: “I do everything…cowboy art, nudes, fantasy…I’m a creative artist. That’s what I consider myself.” I told Frank that he should write down that statement so that there would be a document in his own hand describing how he should be characterized as an artist. He ripped a sheet out of his sketchbook, wrote the statement, and handed it to me. “There! Are you happy now?” I was ecstatic. I knew the importance of that little bit of writing. When the documentary crew saw that statement they immediately asked if they could use it for the opening sequence. Absolutely! That was the perfect place for it. Originally, the actual image of the text was to be used. Unfortunately, a focus group said that changing the font would make it more effective. Keep the words and change the look. I thought the authenticity of Frank’s own handwriting would be more affecting and powerful. I was outvoted.

ONE FURTHER POINT: Several years ago I was talking to Frank and he was a little despondent. A bus full of art students had just left the museum. Frank generously went out to talk to them and answer a few questions. Frank said: “Dave, they wouldn’t believe me. They just wouldn’t believe that I make this stuff up. What can I do? Do I have to sit down and paint a picture right in front of them before they’ll believe me? I told them to ask you; you’ve seen me do it many times. I told them to go to Williamson. He used to come into my studio and look over my shoulder: “Made-up, Frank?” He’d always ask me that. He was constantly amazed that I kept making things up. “
The problem is that what Frank does is SO unique, that it is almost unbelievable. Yes, Frank did borrow images/poses from Foster in his early years. Yes, he did use swipes in about a dozen drawings and oils. Yes, he did glance in the mirror to grab a facial expression. Yes, he did use photo reference in his movie poster work. In those jobs everything had to be perfectly “on model” so the studios would send portrait photos of all the main stars. I knew EVERY instance where Frank borrowed an image or pose. They can be traced to Wyeth, to Pyle, to Burian, to Booth, to Foster, and a couple others. ALL THE ABOVE constitutes about 5% of Frank’s output-----THAT’S IT!!!!!!!!!!!!! Everything else is straight from the soul, right out of his creative imagination. I have seen him draw, watercolor, and paint many images right from scratch. Nothing there…no models…no photos...nothing, just that gargantuan treasure trove of memory and magic that defines Frazetta as the creative force he is. If you don’t believe, fine, that is your prerogative. But you will be turning your back on the truth and turning your back on that one special quality that is responsible for the vivid sense of life that explodes from every image. Frazetta has a special gift that simply does not exist in most artists. I am not diminishing other artists because they use reference or rely on models. That is their method and it often leads to exceptional work. Look at the industry in the work of Rockwell. Countless photos, countless studies, an immense amount of research into every nuance of a painting produced results that speak for themselves. But that is not Frazetta’s path. His approach is intuitive, quick, a creative intuition into the essence of a scene, and a quick creation on paper or easel. Frazetta should be revered for the great American treasure that he is. Why he is not the most famous artist in the western world is beyond me. But, that is a very serious subject for another essay at another time.

Dr. Dave Winiewicz ©2008


  1. Hi Doc Dave,

    Having recently stumbled on the frazetta boards I only came across your blog by chance and I can't stress how thankful I am that FF had a friend like yourself to share many of these fantastic yarns you publish. As a practicing artist, I wish every artist who I greatly admire had such a person to share a slice of their 1st hand history with, ofcourse to relay to a keen ear. How great would a first hand account of Caravaggio be on his art processors and of course his devious adventures? - We will never know.

    Would you be so kind to answer a few questions I have about the great man:

    I have read the late great Catherine J Jones was heavily influenced by FF and in one interview it suggested she paid a visit to the museum and photographed everything. What did FF think of CJJones's art and other such like her?
    In terms of the old masters, did frank have a particular favourite or did he ever mention a particular painting he was spell bound by?
    Did FF use brushes to ink his comic related work?
    Did Frank ever consider doing large scale paintings in the vane of 'Night Watch - Rembrandt' ?

    One thing does bemuse me is that Frank couldn’t get work as a sequential artist in the 60's. I found it insane, purely on the basis of his work I have previously seen on these boards over the last few days. Plus wouldn’t a second glance at WF#29 seal such any job!? My opinion is that comic art took a dip in quality probably due to the popular artista of the time choosing quantity over quality. It all happened for a reason though…

    Finally, the vid regards WF29 was brillaint please keep this brilliant stuff coming.

    Many Thanks

  2. Thanks for the comments.
    I believe Jones visited the museum in the late 1980's and took some photos. Frank was not really familiar with most of Jone's later work. Early on he was annoyed at Jones using his style. Frank never mentioned a real passion for any of the great artists. Quite honestly, he simply considered himself their equal. He never made a plan for a huge canvas simply because of the limitations in size of his studio.

    Yes, he used both brush and pen for his comic book work and illustrations. He used them so interchangeably that he couldn't see which line was done by which implement. Astounding, really. He had total mastery of both.

    Thanks again!


  3. I received this clarification from Arnie Fenner about Jones visiting Frank:

    "From what I know, Jeff never went to any of the incarnations of the Frazetta museum. He DID visit them when they lived in Long Island in either the late 1960s or early 1970s and Frank allowed Jeff to photograph anything and everything he wanted. Later, Frank expressed regret that he had done so, feeling (rightly or wrongly) that Jeff's paperback covers were referencing Frazetta's work."

    Arnie is, of course, correct. When Frank told me about Jones' visit, I assumed it was at the first museum. I was wrong and stand corrected.

    Thanks Arnie!


  4. Awesome post! However I have to slightly disagree that the artists who inspired him only contributed to 5% of his output. Check out the many examples of Zdenek Burian illustrations & paintings that seem to have directly inspired the work of Frazetta. I have created an extremely thorough blog post comparing specific Frazetta pieces to specific Burian pieces: