Monday, May 10, 2010

LONG LIVE FRANK FRAZETTA!

You don't need a sentimental hack like me to tell you why Frank Frazetta was one of the world's greatest living fantasy visionaries and you don't need me to tell you how his passing this morning in a Ft. Myers, Florida hospital room at the age of 82 was an abysmal loss for all those who cherish his legacy so dearly. Much has been written about the Brooklyn-born child prodigy who gravitated toward baseball, girls and motorcycles before charging into one of the most inspired and influential illustration careers of the 20th Century. The subject of many books and a 2003 documentary, Painting With Fire, the trajectory of his life and the far-reaching impact of his tremendous talent has been well chronicled. So you don't need a sappy misguided disciple like me to tell you why Frank Frazetta was the unintentional father of contemporary heavy metal album cover graphics, custom van murals, iron-on decals, amusement park coke mirrors and just about every other form of bad ass commercial detritus of the past 50 years. But I'm going to tell you anyway...

Frazetta strikes at the gut. The perceptive viewer will experience an immediate physiological stimulation to his paintings that often manifests as a slight stirring in the groin, a fight-or-flight tightening of the balls not unlike that felt just before a fist fight or dog attack, as your eyes are drawn into a primordial realm of transcendental victory or soul-rending defeat. His bold pyramidal compositions invoke strange atavistic memories. Something inside you slips. Muscle quivers under taut skin. The feral wild-eyed berserker summons courage previously unknown because there simply is no other choice. Force fights inertia with a stick and stone. The arena of opposition captured on a Frazetta canvas in smoldering burnt umber washes and slashes of vermillion is the archetypal Axis of life and death. It is a drama as old as time itself, endlessly unfurling like silent strands of DNA. Perhaps it is not entirely coincidental that all those intertwined limbs, serpentine leviathans and primordial roots so often resemble double helices. Frazetta's creative heroics are in fact apt metaphors for white blood cells defending an organism from invading bacteria and cancer. There is no question of "right" or "wrong." There is no hesitation. There is only eternal conflict and the indomitable will to survive. Wimp critics who only see a distorted caricature of the misogynistic male psyche or a D&D nerd's wet dream have missed the point completely. Frazetta's magic is lost on flaccid intellectuals. If it is possible to imbue the fine art equivalent of a really awesome Hanna-Barbera cartoon with a mysticism and gravity approaching religious, Frank Frazetta has done just that. And his legacy lives on!

I occasionally hunch over a desk for long hours pulling weird shit out of my head with a cheap ballpoint pen because of Frank Frazetta's powerful childhood influence. Frazetta was my Walt Disney and Carl Barks. My mom bought me my first Frazetta book way back when I was in third grade (which was 1980 for those keeping score) and I grew up immersed in his imagery. Puzzles, shirts, books, posters, and of course album covers. In 1972 his painting 'The Snow Giants' appeared on Dust's final LP Hard Attack (which actually ain't that hard) and his painting 'The Brain' appeared first as the cover for Eerie Magazine #8 and later on Nazareth's 1977 album Expect No Mercy. Soon after his work would appear on several Molly Hatchet records throughout the late 70's and early 80's. Frazetta imitators such as Boris Vallejo have also appeared on many album covers and I'm not even slightly ashamed or surprised to note the unconscious and decidedly primitive homage to Frazetta's masterpieces 'Against The Gods' and 'Jongar Fights Back' in my own recent drawing for Darkthrone's incredible new LP Circle The Wagons! Take a look:

At least I'm in decent company. Here are just a few more recent examples of Frazetta's continued influence on popular culture. The Australian band Wolfmother appropriated a detail of his epic 'Sea Witch' for their 2005 LP which was more recently echoed in the original painting below by Arik Roper, himself an unapologetic Frazetta devotee, for High On Fire's Snakes For The Divine:

Ok, enough of the cultural analysis and grim personal musings. It's time to celebrate a life well-lived and an end bravely embraced! Farewell, Frank Frazetta. Thank you for all the joy and mystery you've brought to the world. You are already missed but your testosterone-fueled vision lives on in the memories and palettes of all those who's lives you have touched. Onward to CROM'S HALL! Here's a suggested playlist in honor of Frank Frazetta and if anyone turns this into an actual podcast I will gladly send you a signed print in gratitude:
  • BASIL POLEDOURIS: Riddle of Steel/Riders of Doom
  • DUST: Learning To Die
  • THE WEIRD LORD SLOUGH FEG: The Red Branch
  • HIGH ON FIRE: Thraft of Caanan
  • CIANIDE: Mountains In Thunder
  • SLAUGHTER: Death Dealer
  • DESTROYER 666: King of Kings
  • NAZARETH: Revenge Is Sweet
  • WITCHKILLER: Day Of The Saxons
  • COVEN: Riddle Of Steel
  • CIRITH UNGOL: Frost And Fire
  • MANOWAR: Black Wind, Fire And Steel
  • FRANK SINATRA: I'll Never Smile Again
Frank Frazetta
February 9, 1928 - May 10,2010
R.I.P.

4 comments:

TD said...

A fitting tribute. Still kind of crazy just how much my life and other people’s early lives are tied to Frazetta’s work. He precedes Heavy Metal, adventure stories and girlie mags in discovery. Growing up, the only art that was ever in the house were his paperback covers, prints and a book of paintings and sketches by Michelangelo. As a kid I would go into my older brother’s room and sit down in front of his prints of Spider Man and Indomitable on the wall, imagining the back-stories of these dramatic and bloody moments. Today is no different. That feeling will never cease, his paintings will never seem weakened by time and comparison. White girl's butts will never have a greater exponent.

To add another album cover to the list, I don’t think it would be a stretch to suggest Manilla
Road’s Voyager album is patterned after Frazetta’s awesome Kane on the Golden Sea.

Dennis Dread said...

Manilla Road's 'Voyager' art was definitely inspired by Frazetta's great 'Kane On The Golden Sea' painting. There are also lots of foreign exploitation movie posters that "borrowed" heavily from his visual legacy. Maybe you've seen some in China? I might collect more of these homages and post them in the future. Thanks for your comment, Todd!

Leon said...

WELL said and hear, hear, Herr Dread. Even my friends who are not interested in "fantasy" or "art" know Frank Frazetta. I'm VERY sad we never got to visit his museum like he did, because I have fears no one ever will again.

UA said...

Awesome that you're so into his stuff. He has been one of my favorite artists ever since I picked up a cheap Conan paperback as a kid. Amazing man...