Friday, September 9, 2011

An Interesting Day With Frazetta

It was a very hot and humid day in late September. I pulled into the Frazetta estate around noon. Frank put on the coffee and we sat down and started talking about art. We talked about Asian aesthetics and the concepts they utilized. He showed me the Death Dealer oil that he was revising. I told him that he should just start a new oil and forget about these revisions. This was a topic we argued about endlessly. In the midst of this discussion Ellie came into the studio with lunch. As we started to eat Ellie lectured Frank on his complete laziness. She berated him for not producing more. She told him that he should start painting abstract oils. They would be easy to paint and would sell for thousands of dollars. Easy money, she said. You have a lot of children and grandchildren to help out. Frank shook his head and told her to mind her own business, that he worked hard enough. She was well provided her. I told Ellie that it’s not the quantity, but the quality of the art that made his reputation. Besides, I said, look at all the art in this house. It’s exploding with art. Ellie dismissed my comments. She quoted the Christie’s and Sotheby’s auctions where abstract pieces were selling for amazing sums of money. Finally, after ruining Frank’s lunch, she left us in peace. We went out for a long walk on the estate. We then went to visit a local pawnshop where Frank spent 45 minutes haggling over a $15 lens.

When we returned to the studio later in the afternoon I asked Frank if he ever tried to do abstractions besides the DOWNWARD TO THE EARTH oil, which is very abstract in approach. In answer he picked up a small piece of illustration board. He asked me to get him some water and some paper towels. He first pencilled his signature on the board. He then picked up a crow quill pen and dipped it in the ink bottle. He looked at me and said: “My way…I’m going to do this my way. I’ll start with the end. I’m going to sign it first. Maybe that will get me going and give me an idea.” He started to ink the pencilled signature and the tip exploded off the pen. “God dammit…the board is too rough. Now I have to find another pen. That was a brand new pen. I just bought the damn thing. What crappy materials!” I chuckled and said: “Now that’s what I call a powerful signature. I didn’t realize there was so much energy in there. Your art is dangerous, Frank.” He was exasperated that the pen broke and asked me to look for another piece of illo board with a smoother surface. I found an old piece of board laying in the corner. Frank said that will do nicely. The board was about 9x12 inches.

Frank signed the board boldly along the right side. Nice signature. He thought for a minute and then broke the space up into triangles. He blackened a few places and added wash to another triangular section. Everything in black and white, no color.
He then took a very fine pointed pen and drew some sinuous lines in a very quick fashion.
“There you are…abstract art! Put it over there and let it dry. Don’t touch it; you’ll get ink all over your fingers. What do you think? Is it worth thousands of dollars?” He laughed. “Do you want to make me an offer?” I thought Frank was kidding. Actually, I didn’t know what to think because I didn’t know his thoughts. I told him: “I’ll buy you a steak dinner for it.” Frank said: “You have a deal. I want filet mignon.” I was stunned. Really, Frank? “Yes, it’s yours; I don’t want it. It’s nothing to me. It wasn’t fun; I didn’t FEEL anything while doing it. Why would I keep it. I’d only throw it out so Ellie doesn’t see it. She’d only break my balls with it. Let’s go eat; I’m hungry again. Bring your wallet.” We both laughed.

We got to the restaurant and ordered Filet Mignon. We had coffee to start and talked about the art. Frank asked me to comment on the abstract art. I said: “Frank, at first I thought it was a spotlight showcasing your signature, but that’s wrong. I thought you might be joking. No, you were not. There is something there, but you don’t see it. Remember that discussion we had earlier about the concept of yin and yang in asian philosophy? You subconsciously drew a rendition of the Frazetta yin and yan. Your signature occupies a bright white region, a place a clarity and light and order and BEAUTY. You then added the world that surrounds you, the dark and dangerous world that is attached to the imagination. The black void, the gray area, is your workshop. That’s the mysterious place you draw images from, a dark, hidden area from which ideas emerge. Those squiggly lines are a form waiting to take shape. Maybe it’s your signature in its unformed state. I’ve told you this before, Frank, an artist is just not aware of everything that goes into a work. That’s why an artist is not the best judge of his own work. All those ideas need to explode in the mind of your audience.” Frank listens to all this with a little look of bewilderment. “If you say so”, he says. We both laugh. “Keep it to yourself. I don’t want Ellie finding out. I’m serious. I don’t need the grief.” Of course, I agreed and have kept it secret until this day.

Another odd thing: The meal was brought. Meat with potatoes and peas and bread. It was delicious. Frank cut a piece of the Filet and started to chew. “Mmmmmmm…this is great, really great. I mean it, this is really great.” He then cut another piece, and another, and another. I said: Frank, aren’t you going to eat the other stuff. The bread is warm and quite tasty.” Frank replied: “Why? This filet is so good I don’t want to ruin the taste with anything else.” Frank sat there and ate the Filet in a very animated fashion. He never touched anything else on the plate, nor did he take any bread. He wouldn’t even drink his coffee. He didn’t want anything to interefere with the “experience” of eating that Filet Mignon. An amazing man! I will miss him dearly.

Dr. Dave Winiewicz © 2010


Old School Illustrator said...

A great story Dave! Keep em coming, they are golden memories for you and buried treasure for the rest of us!
-Jeff Preston

Adrian Tysoe said...

I agree, very nice story. Franks relationship with his wife reminds me of so many strong older couples, and a little of mine with my wife.

She's usually the one that kicks butt around the house, and I have to tread carefully sometimes. Very fun and interesting. So you may be in possession of the only original signed abstract Frazetta :)

Blasterkid said...

I like it. The story was great and the image is actually very interesting...there's this odd feeling of imbalance to me with it...almost a caught in the middle feeling but the unknown seems to be coming in at an odd tempo. The scribble has a great energy to it and almost feels like it's descending.

Frank would laugh at my impression of it I think....hahaha



more stories would be great Dave...these really make this world come alive for those of us who never had an opportunity to meet the man.

Robert Cook said...

The abstract drawing itself is's drivel. I do agree with your contention in "A Phone Call Concerning Frazetta" that he was a superb pen and ink artist, in fact that's where he was at his best. I found that in his oil illustrations, he would sometimes slough off on the underlying drawing, getting by with bravura brushwork and--yes--abstract passages of color that appear as turbulent cloudy vortexes. He couldn't get away with that in his drawings, and he had to rely on pure draughtsmanship and masterful technique with the brush and pen, (and pencil, in his later published drawings).