To Live and Write in LA

SXSW: Fire, Rodriguez, and Frazetta

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Frazetta;s ‘The Barbarian’ established the image of Conan for a generation

It’s a rare moment when two artistic talents you have admired for decades intersect in your presence. Robert Rodriguez has been one of my favorite directors since I saw From Dusk Till Dawn. Frank Frazetta has been my favorite artist since his paintings began appearing on the covers of Tarzan and Conan books in the 1960s.  At SXSW, I participated in a tour of the Robert Rodriguez Museum, 920 Congress Ave, Austin, conducted the man himself. The museum features original paintings by Frank Frazetta, comic-genius Frank Miller, movie poster master Drew Struzan, hyper-realist Sebastian Kruger, and sculptor Clete Shields.

Rodriguez explained how, like many others, he found the paintings of Frank Frazetta amazing and inspirational for his own art. He recalled how when he first met Frazetta, and saw his original paintings up close, he was amazed at the depth and detail that never appeared in any of the prints or book covers.


Director Robert Rodriguez discusses original Frazetta art in new Austin museum

Rodriguez led the tour past a line of Frazetta originals, explaining techniques, composition and insider facts about individual pieces. He said he had wondered how Frazetta had achieved a speckled look in the sky aboveNeanderthals. When he saw the original, Frazetta told him that he had run out of canvas one day, so he ran down to his basement, grabbed a piece of masonite and painted on that instead. The “speckles” were just masonite. That piece of “scrap building material” hangs in this museum.

Frank Frazetta self-portrait

Frank Frazetta self-portrait

He also shared the story about Frazetta’s famous self portrait. “He had gotten very angry about something, breaking stuff up angry,” Rodriguez said. “When he got home he looked in the mirror and saw his intense face staring back at him and decided to paint it.” This painting is also in the museum.

Frazetta could work very quickly, according to Rodriguez. “Sometimes when I’d visit,” he said, “Frank would point to a line of paintings and say ‘That’s this week’s work’.” On the other hand, he had a reputation for not making deadlines.

The two creators became friends in 1996 when Rodriguez commissioned a poster from Frazetta.  “The artwork for the poster for Dusk till Dawn didn’t arrive till a week before the movie was coming out,” Rodriguez explained. “It was too late to use it for the film, but we made posters out of it and gave them away in book stores for free,”

Rodriquez plans on remaking Ralph Bakshi’s Fire and Ice. Although inspired by Frazetta, the original animation had “comic book style” art, he explained, because in 1983 you would have needed an original Frazetta painting for each frame of the film. Now, through CGI, Rodriguez plans to recreate the story in a style that pays homage to Frazetta.


‘Neanderthals’ painted on Masonite by Frank Frazetta.

A concept art poster by Justin Sweet and Kurt Volk for the remake hangs in the museum. “I never hire artists”, Rodriguez said, “unless they have been influenced by Frazetta.”

Rodriquez is an artist himself, studying or observing artists as they work. He has extended that passion for putting paint on canvas to the actors who work in his films. Rather than having actors sit in a trailer, twiddling their thumbs between scenes, he has them put those thumbs and other digits to work painting self portraits.  Their work is featured in one part of the museum.

“Sometimes actors are reluctant to start,” he said, “but when they see what other actors have done, they get excited about it.” He explained that he did this for a reason: “When you start creating in one medium, it puts you into the flow, and that creativity continues when the actors reach the set.

“Sometimes I bring my guitar to the set and play during breaks for the same reason,” he said.


Self-portraits by stars of Rodriguez films

Frazetta passed away in 2010, and Rodriguez is working with Frazetta’s family to insure that Frazetta’s work will continue to be appreciated. He is also producing a series of ultra-high-quality prints and made to order museum quality reproductions. He will be taking some of the art to Comic-Con and similar events. Funds from these efforts will go toward maintaining Frazetta’s legacy.

At the end of the tour I shared a personal story about Frazetta. “Like you”, I said, “I had all the books and posters in high school in college, but they were put away when I went into the real world. Years later, after I was married, I ran across one of the art book collections of Frazetta’s work. I bought it and showed it to my wife and she said, ‘All these girls look like me.’ ‘What a coincidence’, I said.”

Rodriguez laughed and said, “You fell in love with a Frazetta girl.”

If you are in love with Frazetta girls or heroes or daemons, you can hear about future showings by following Robert Rodriquez on Twitter: @Rodriguez.

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