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Farewell Frank Frazetta
By Cassandra ScottFebruary 9, 1928 – May 10, 2010
A year or so ago I began researching to write a story on the genre of fantasy art for the Tattooed Heart – mainly because it rules, but also because I feel that in recent years it has fallen into the land of uncoolness, usurped in the tattoo world by ‘old school’ and Japanese and, in other art circles, ‘conceptual art’ which can mean anything, like lying on the floor of an art gallery while people stand on you at the opening night. Anyway…my investigations all kept pointing to one artist as the root from which all fantastical works of art flourished – his name was Frank Frazetta.
With muscularly ripped warriors, rugged foreign landscapes, fearsome monsters, and bangin’ babes, all rendered in the finest of fine detail, Frank Frazetta’s paintings placed him as the undisputed master of the fantasy art genre. His book covers were so popular, publishers would commission him to create a painting, and then get someone to write the book to go with it. Frank passed away last month, at the age of 82, and here The Tattooed Heart pays tribute to an exceptionally talented artist.
Right from when he was a two-year-old, Frank Frazetta showed an interest in drawing. He was encouraged at first by his grandmother. ‘When I drew something, she would be the one to say it was wonderful and would give me a penny to keep going,’ he is quoted as saying.
Frank went to art school at the age of eight; he said he didn’t learn much, although his teacher recognised his talent right from his first day, when he asked Frank to copy a picture of some ducks. ‘When he returned, he snatched up my drawing exclaiming, "Mama mia!" and ran off waving it in the air, calling everyone over to look at it,’ Frank said. ‘I thought I was in some kind of trouble.’
Frazetta was just 15 when he started working as a comic book artist, first off doing clean-ups for other artists, then creating his own characters. He drew in many different genres – western, fantasy, mystery, cute animals and historical drama.
In 1956, at age 24, Frank married the beautiful 17-year-old Eleanor Kelly. ‘I sensed that she would be forever loyal and I never ever had that feeling about any other girl I'd been involved with,’ he said. Up until she passed away in 2009, Frank had his muse by his side. Eleanor Frazetta modelled in his paintings and also ran his business. Together the pair had four children.
In his prolific career as a commercial artist, Frazetta created erotic illustrations for men’s magazines, artwork for film posters, album covers and books and animation for Hollywood films.
He designed book covers for the classic Tarzan and Conan series of books, which redefined the look of the whole ‘sword and sandal’ genre, and have been copied by generations of fantasy artists.
Frazetta’s Conan illustrations are directly responsible for Arnie’s awesome look in the later movies, but he says he never even read the stories he was creating artwork for. ‘I didn't read any of it...I drew him my way. It was really rugged. And it caught on. I didn't care about what people thought. People who bought the books never complained about it. They probably didn't read them,’ he said.
That first Conan book ended up selling roughly 10 million copies (making it the equivalent of Harry Potter for the 1960s). In 2009, Frazetta’s Conan the Conquerer painting sold for ONE MILLION DOLLARS AHAHAHAHAHA to none other than Metallica lead guitarist Kirk Hammet.
In his later years, Frazetta suffered a series of strokes that left him paralysed in his drawing hand. No worries – he taught himself to paint and draw all over again with his other hand. Legend.
For more on Frank Frazetta, you can watch the 2003 documentary Frank Frazetta: Painting with Fire (sweet name).
Or get hold of the book The fantastic art of Frank Frazetta, which sold more than 300,000 copies on its release in 1977.
"Good or bad, the one thing I can say about my art is, if I can quote Sinatra, I did it my way." - Frank Frazetta.
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