Saturday, September 21, 2013

My core trio of artists - what they have in common

I've made many posts discussing Frazetta, Jeff Jones, and Kent Williams. The first 2 were heroic fantasy artists of the 60's/70's, while Williams started in the 80's and never did fantasy art. And yet in some way I associate them very closely with one another - and it's not just that they were my favorites. I think I have a handle on what it is they have in common.

Quite simply, of all the artists I've heaped respect and admiration on through my adolescence and young adulthood - the period so fertile with amazing art thanks to Warren publishing and then Epic Illustrated - these were the guys who did the best figurative painting. They also essentially made no concessions to genre in anything they did - though Frazetta and Jones worked as fantasy painters I know neither of them accepted the limitations of any genre and considered themselves artists and painters foremost, who were working in a normally limiting field but ignoring the limitations lesser artists would be forced to adapt to (or would choose to accept).

This is something I first came up with when thinking about progressive rock a few weeks ago - and how completely unlike anything previously (or since) labelled Rock it was. Rock and roll, when it was created in the 50's, was dance music with a simple repetitive drum beat and simple repetitive bass line. Nothing but pop music for the kids to bop to, with a rebellious streak. But the prog rock bands never did anything remotely like that - which made me wonder why ot was ever called rock to begin with. I reasoned it was really because it was being played on the FM stations - the ones adventurous enough to play non-format music and to spin entire album sides rather than just play hit singles under 3 minutes. It was in the mutating field still called rock music that the real excitement was happening - and it no longer conformed to any formulaic labels of what rock music was. It had the rock sensibility to it - edgy and energetic, often made by rebellious and rowdy youths. Even the more orchestral music like Kansas and ELO was powerful in a way no orchestra music ever had been before - it was something entirely new and as I once heard the drummer from YES say - nobody had ever told him rock drumming was supposed to be simple and catchy.

So I realized these guys were basically not making any particular kind of music at all - they were just making great music, with no limitations, no genre, no labels. Drawing inspiration from all sources available. It's just that the only place they could get it played was on the ostensible 'rock' stations.
It's the same for the fantasy artists and the - whatever you'd call Williams. They're really continuing the tradition of figurative painting begun in the Renaissance that moved to magazine illustration when the 'art world' lost its collective mind and declared the figure to be dead. It then moved to the pulps when the golden age of the illustrated magazine died, and then when they went the way of the Dodo it moved to Warren and the Epic Illustrated and similar formats.

So essentially my trio of artists were really just great figurative painters finding where it was possible to get their work published. Their work always went above and beyond the limitations of genre, they were in love with the figure and with painting it.

Then it hit me - the great rock stations of the 70's, Warren Publishing, Epic Illustrated - what they had in common was that they pushed for excellence in a field that's normally limiting, and thus enabled artists to flourish and to do amazing work. And I suppose that's the real key - amazing art can only happen when there's someone pushing to allow it to happen. A publisher like Jim Warren, who went way above and beyond what was necessary to make money on the publishing game - he created an environment where excellent artists were rewarded and were enabled to do what they love and to do it to the highest standards. If not for people like that, the great art would not be getting made - people like Frazetta and Jeff Jones and Kent Williams would be forced to work as plumbers or bakers or something.

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