Wednesday, May 1, 2013


A selection of Frazetta images illustrating his penchant for simple abstract forms done in what appears to be colorful swirling gasses:

What makes these paintings what I call primordial? A combination of elements. For one the characters are stripped of anything superficial - no emotions other than fierce, grim, or maybe astonished. No social conventions or trappings of modern society such as mass produced objects, no signs of consumerist culture, no social order such as police - this is primitive existence - Man against either Man, Monster or Nature. There's no detail - everything is rendered as extremely simple forms - the figures really look like mannikins. No textures or patterns, though occasionally for certain types of animals the patterning is so important it needs to be included (like a leopard). But you'll notice, at least in the work of the three artists I concentrate on, even pattern isn't done illusionistically, it still shows brush marks - the hand of the artist at work. These pieces make it clear they were produced by hand by a talented artist, no surface polish or tricks to produce anything resembling photorealism the way Boris and others like to do. There's a definite preference for certain types of surfaces or materials - not a lot of shiny stuff which would tend to recall modern materials. Even when there's metal it's done as if it's hand forged rather than chrome-plated machine-finished mirror0surfaced metal polished to perfection.

The primordial is not naturalistic, it's symbolic. Backgrounds do not imitate nature, they're stages for dream dramas, arranged by the artists specifically to accent the action of the piece and to suggest the sense f primordial landscape.

But there are also certain painting/drawing techniques that contribute strongly to the primordial look of these works. Just a quick rundown - I plan to go into greater detail in future installments:

No detailing - things are rendered as simple bold forms broken down into light and dark shapes which are then painted in swirling colors that suggest a thick soupy atmosphere.

I'm nearly finished with the digital painting I call Bemused (probably to be called Red Fish or Devilfish on completion), and yesterday morning when walking out of my bedroom (still the storage room) I knocked over a pile of books and Frazetta prints (old calendar/book pages glued to cardboard in the Let's Start a Framing/Mounting Business days). In picking them up I got a quick look at a bunch of his work, and was really struck by just how abstract and primordial they are, which my work is not AT ALL!! 

Then this morning I noticed the top edge of one of the prints visible - a watercolor with a blonde girl lying in a field with several wolves sitting next to her. What immediately struck me when all I could see were the tops of several wolf heads was how completely my own drawing approach was inspired by his work. And it got me to thinking - 

Just how primordial do I want to go? I always assumed I'd be a really good painter one day, and also that my work would be somehow primordial like Frazetta's, Jeff Jones' etc. - but this painting sure isn't going that way. Longbow sort of is, but then it's also picking up some residual and unwanted Frazetta style and pose. His have what looks like glowing colorful gasses swirling through the background and even the figures, and it obliterates everything superficial to the primordial - what's left is a very stripped-bare figure facing forces of nature with naked will and courage. That's in Frank's work - in Jones' it's more like a psyche being buffetted by winds of inner turmoil or occasionally embraced by inner harmony and grace. Williams has something similar - but his figures aren't stripped all the way to the essential - they still include elements of social life and family, which in his artistic world are essential. And it's there in St. John's work too - a move toward the primordial but focused more an Adventure In Faraway Exotic Worlds.

Similar images by Jeffrey Jones:

So where should I strive to fit in? What's essential in my world? 

As I've been doing all along, let me start by examining how the authors they've illustrated have handled the same type of issues - R E Howard's Conan was primordial, Burroughs' John Carter more Exotic Adventure in Faraway Worlds, but what about Fritz Lieber (the author I most want to illustrate - this entry is aimed at helping my find my own approach)? 

Fafhrd and the Mouser aren't really primordial - thought at times they become it for part of an adventure. Their world is definitely exotic and faraway, but it's also whimsical and a bit surreal, and a reflection of our own for the wry humor elements. Probably the main element is their enduring and mighty friendship - warm, quirky, and very human. This is not primordial! It's what formed the basis of my Tony and Kurt/Beastseeker stories. There's also the whimsical and creative use of flowery Shakespearian language, one of Lieber's best assets. And something that would be considered extraneous and superficial in a Conan novel.

And by KWMS:

And finally a drawing by unknown artist exemplifying the same technique:

Note - this drawing only demonstrates the technique of rendering the image in shapes of light and dark and obliteration of most details - otherwise this work is not primordial, it's more of a costume drama piece with trappings firmly setting it in a particular time period,
and the characters enjoy a wide range of facial expressions and social conventions. These are definitely not primitive humans facing naked Nature with only /courage and Will - they're upper class citizens moving through their social melieu

I think that's why I've moved (semi-consciously) in a direction more akin to Golden Age magazine illustration as opposed to paperback covers of the 60's and 70's. More Howard Pyle than Frazetta. One of the best things I came up with is that wry grin that characterizes Fafhrd, which led me to Anthony Kiedis as the model for him. It's his facial expressions/body language and larger-than-life whimsical humor that make him Fafhrd. And try as I might, I just can't for the life of me see any Frazetta character (or Jones, or Williams for that matter) grinning like that! I'm also going into a good deal of naturalistic detail like an early Renaissance painting - rather than the isolated figure surrounded by swirling vapors. And I like it!! It led to a crisis because this is not at all how I always envisioned myself painting - I saw myself being much more Primordial. And I do want to do some of that - in some way anyway. Like I said, sometimes Faf and the Mouser become primordial. 

But one thing to consider - if I do move more toward that swirling vapor thing then my work would look very dated and derivative. Its the hallmark of every Frazetta clone as well as his highly talented compadres. It's sort of like those elements of Prog Rock that now sound silly and dated, even though in so many ways its good qualities still stand head and shoulders above any type of music made since. I don't want my work to look like it belongs airbrushed on the side of a '77 Chevy van! 

And yet I feel it's vitally important for me to do some paintings featuring the swirly vapor stuff. It's not only the way I always envisioned my art to look eventually, whenever I finally got good, but it's one of the essential fixtures of fantasy art - at least the Frazetta lineage. You even see a variation of it in Williams, and he makes it his own - so that's how I need to proceed. Do it a few times, learn how it's done, and then let it evolve into something that's not Frazetta-derivative. 

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