Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Fantasy Art

As a mid teen I tripped out on the paintings of Boris Vallejo who signed his slick fantasy paintings simply Boris. Any budding fan soon discovered that he and his wife served as models for the paintings, both being what is called in our society, attractive types. Boris himself was athletic and was a few leather and rivet gauntlets away from being a fantasy hero himself.
    The paintings were direct, glossy and tightly rendered. He would play with the usual colour fields as backgrounds and the occasional paisley shaped abstraction acting as body jewellery for his savage warriors queens.
    I knew, of course, of the work of Frank Frazetta, but somehow clicked onto Boris. In hindsight, a hindsight that is now over twenty years old, it is evident that if Boris is for mid-teens, Frazetta is for sophisticated people twice or three times that age. Boris is Menudo to Frazetta's Rolling Stones. Other lame analogies may fit as well, we'll leave them for someone else to pen.
    Frazetta's fantasy paintings, reproduced as prints, book and album covers, lovingly airbrushed on vans and motorcycle gas tanks, are art. Solid, complex, deftly executed pieces of art. He can be as tight as he needs be, but his classic paintings seems thrown chaotically onto the board, almost hastily. Quick dabs of paint, rough almost blurry forms and edges give his work energy and life. They move, they shimmer. The colours are moody and dank, swampy tones for primeval heroics. Boris, on the other hand, is candy clean and well lit. His work got more well lit, more staged as the years went by. I recall getting disappointed in his continued direction. The fantasy painter most akin to Boris at the time was Rowena, her clean line and light of day approach followed directly from Boris. By highlighting his style, Rowena showed me what I missed by siding with Boris while not immersing myself in Frazetta. He work was too staged, his heroics were in the photo room. Frazetta's heroics clearly clashed axes in his own psyche. This stuff was real. It was threatening to a fourteen year old. It was FM rock radio late at night, high on drugs.
    I write all this because yesterday the deaths of two great fantasy artists were announced. From the shadow came H.R.Giger, discussed briefly in the previous post. From the faerie realm of baroque phantasmagoria came Patrick Woodroffe. Both these greats and their passing reminded me of my early love for fantasy art, how as a teenager their books enthralled me though I often couldn't afford them. Giger had a cheap edition by Taschen but Woodroffe always eluded me. I looked at his work and marvelled but I never took it home with me. I took home Boris. A few months ago I lucked out on two books by Frazetta, the classic editions I never picked up as a kid.
    The other books that I fear I'll start collecting are the Paper Tiger oversized paperbacks, Roger Dean et al. This house published both Woodroffe and Boris !
    But the main artists who totally captivated my attention from the age of fourteen or so until my late teens were the inimitable Brothers Hildebrandt. From their spot on depictions of Middle Earth to their impossibly pretentious name to their feather in cap coupe of a Star Wars poster, they made me stop and look. I outgrew them though and now poring over their pages, I stop at the early Tolkein work. Urshurak and beyond just left me cold.
    Fantasy art. One of my dear strong early loves. I'll come around some day and try my hand like I did back then.