Monday, September 16, 2013


Everyone knows that the formless, abstract backgrounds in Frank Frazetta's paintings...

 ...are superior to the formless, abstract backgrounds in paintings by Boris:

The question is: how do we know?

We can't say that one is better because it is more accurate or realistic. There are no objective laws, similar to perspective or anatomy, for judging soft fields of color.  We have no external reference points, like the ones we employ to evaluate facial expressions or poses or  outfits, to help us understand which looks more "right."

If anything, in the following comparison,  Frazetta's undersea background is less accurate:

Boris                                                                                            Frazetta
Yet, it's clearly better.

Whatever the reason--  intuitive or biological or organic-- we somehow know that the random brush strokes and shapeless colors of one artist are consistently better than the random brush strokes and shapeless colors of the other.



I am offering this comparison for my friends out there who complain that modern abstract painting, such as color field painting, has no viable standards of quality. They grumble, "How are we supposed to distinguish between a good abstract expressionist painting and a bad one, or even a random paint spill?" 

Jules Olitski
Helen Frankenthaler
My answer is: if you know a Frazetta background is better than a Boris background, you have all the tools you need to distinguish a good abstract painting from a bad one.


Smurfswacker said...

What always bothered me about Boris' backgrounds was his use of several bright, highly saturated colors side by side. The pinks, blues, greens and violets clashed with each other and overpowered the foreground. On the racks Boris' covers stood out like neon signs, which to publishers I suppose was a good thing. To me they always looked cheesy, like the cheaper parts of the Vegas Strip.

xopxe said...

cold bad, warm good?

Unknown said...

I think, as the saying goes, "it's all about the neutrals". I agree with Smurfswacker that Boris' tendency to oversaturate the colors in the background is what kills it for me. In every instance above, Frazetta's colors are more subtle, somewhat muted and more complimentary to one another. There are no hues fighting for any more attention than they deserve. Restraint rules and it lets the real subject stand out without feeling like there is nothing back there. Frazetta was king in this aspect.

chris bennett said...

David wrote "My answer is, if you can distinguish a Frazetta from a Boris, you have all the tools you need to distinguish a good abstract painting from a bad one."

Absolutely agree with that David.
And thanks for the excellent post that led to it!

Astroluc (Find me on Tumblr and Instagram @Astroluc) said...

As a child and young adult I always liked Boris; but as I grew older and my palette (pun intended) grew more refined, I felt more and more for towards his work like I feel towards modern CGI: Too clean, TOO polished, and often very static and unbelievable as a result. Not to slack the guy, as his technique is flawless, but that's part of the issue. Now, Frazetta's work has a wonderful motion to it... it feel much more "alive".

Anonymous said...

Some artists use saturated neon colors well. To name a few, Eric Carle, Marc Chagall, Kelly Freas, Bob Peak. Even Frazetta has some bright red and orange backgrounds, so it's not just the colors.


Anonymous said...

It was always obvious to me that Boris was trying to ape Frazetta's background effects, but didn't have the taste to pull it off. Frazetta's backgrounds read as 'atmosphere,' while Vallejo's read as 'splotches of paint.'

António Araújo said...

Texture is also a factor: the smooth airbrushed look seems cheesy (and not only in the background, in the figures too)

kev ferrara said...


Your argument is like saying that because the reference of a particular pronoun is understood in the context of a well-formed paragraph, a well-formed paragraph can be entirely written in sentences which only use pronouns.

That the identity of some abstraction can be inferred by specificity elsewhere in the communication does not prove that abstraction is legit. It only proves that it is legit under the particular circumstance where it is sufficiently informed so as to be understood.

This is not to say that some justification for non-referential abstraction cannot be made. Merely that this argument doesn't do the job.

The difference between Frazetta and Boris is the difference between someone who lives in his art, binding it together with his emotionalized belief, and someone who builds it piecemeal; The difference between Howard Pyle's teaching and Frank Reilly's. The former will always be the more evocative.

Not sure you chose the best representations of Frazetta's ability to evoke setting with abstraction... This one’s better, I would say.

The Olitski is a minimalist cop out. Like that guy, what's his name, with the big dumb stripes. The Frankenthaler at least has some evocative quality. And I guess that tiny bit of evocative quality is not nothing.

Richard said...

The Frankenthaler just looks like a canvas with some daubs of paint, laid without compositional awareness, or particularly interesting stroke-work. And I say that as someone who absolutely loves abstract expressionism.

I think the Olitski has nice full atmosphere, with a lot of distance.

To be honest though, I don't think the comparison is particularly fair, I don't think the Olitski is a work of abstract expressionism at all. Looks like a minimalist landscape to me.

Richard said...

That is to say the Olitski feels like a completely stripped down version of Nikolay Dubowski's "Silence", or something along those lines.

Anonymous said...

I can't explain why someone else might abstractly prefer Frazetta over Boris, but I can explain why I do based on the samples here: Frazetta's work appears more biased towards straight lines and therefore seems more architectonically sound and stable, while Boris has a lot of curves and puffy shapes that seem weak and displeasing to me, and as well is overly literal with too much chroma as has been mentioned.

David Apatoff said...

Smurfswacker and Greg Newbold-- I agree that colors are a big part of the difference (although some artists have managed to employ odd, grating saturated colors quite effectively-- Maxfield Parrish put together some wild combinations in his day. So did Peter Max.) In keeping with the theme of this post, I think your point could also apply to the work of Rothko or Albers or other abstract artists.

xopxe-- Well, I've seen some awfully nice pictures painted with cool colors. I'd hate to hold these Boris paintings against the whole species of cool colors.

Chris Bennett-- Many thanks.

David Apatoff said...

Astroluc-- I know Boris has a huge following that feels the way you did when you were younger. I would not have picked on him as my example of inferior work if he wasn't wildly successful. But I'm glad your taste has evolved and I agree with your reasons.

Anonymous-- I agree; color is part of the reason for the difference but it is not the entire formula.

Chris James-- I agree (although if imitating Frazetta was a crime, 38% of the popular arts community would be in jail by now).

David Apatoff said...

Antonio Araujo-- I agree that texture demonstrating the tactile quality of the paint and the effect of the brush can be an important sign of a mature talent (which, in my view, Boris is not). As an aside, Boris did not use an airbrush on these, but his oil painted surfaces are as smooth as glass. The same with Rowena and similar artists. It seems to be a point of pride.

Kev Ferrara-- Actually, I considered using that painting, which I like very much, but I figured that someone would complain that the background was a representational painting of fire-- in other words, that it was fire that was abstract, not the paint. I also considered the death dealer and other better (and better known) Frazetta paintings than the ones I used, but I wanted this to be as fair a comparison as I could arrange. I didn't want Frazetta's paintings to have a competitive advantage for fame or other reasons unrelated to the backgrounds.

As for your pronoun argument, I recognize that these backgrounds are part of an integrated whole, but I also think they are holistic. If I cropped the backgrounds out of these images so there was nothing representational left, you could still tell the Frazetta work was better, and you could also see enough shape and design and texture in the cropped portion that it would stand alone pretty well (as long as I didn't crop it in a way that did terrible violence to Frazetta's original intent).

Richard-- I'm not sure Olitski intended a minimalist landscape, although we can infer things from abstract images, just as we can infer things from Frazetta's backgrounds-- cliffs or fire or lightning or such. Olitski's primary affiliations were Color Field painting, Lyrical Abstraction and Abstract Expressionism. But I'm just as happy to dispose of Olitski and substitute one of 25 other painters whose work might serve as the background of a Boris or Frazetta painting.

Laurence John said...

David, so which is the bad abstract painting ?

the Olitski or the Frankenthaler, and why ?

Richard said...

Agreed, you can replace him with any number of other artists. I think that's more or less true, but will any of those artists be truly abstract either?

The very idea of Color Field painting is questionable to me -- when there is very very little information in a painting to deal with, it is very easy to force meaning upon the parts. These circles become biological, that line becomes a horizon, those squares become windows, etc. Good "Color Field" paintings always seem to be good because it is actually minimally representational.

This reminds me of Piet Mondrian's exercise in abstracting away a landscape at the beginning of "Natural Reality and Abstract Reality: An Essay in Trialogue Form" -- he begins with a night scene, and begins to strip it down. More and more pieces are pulled away until finally it's just a horizon and a moon, and finally, he removes the moon and thereby reaches the door of Neo-Plasticism.

The difference between that hyper-minimalism and true abstract expressionism, seems to be that true abstract expressionism has enough information that it cannot be confused for representational-ism.

Unknown said...

The Frankenthaler has character, personality! :-)

Sean Farrell said...

David wrote, "Whether it is for intuitive reasons or biological reasons or organic reasons, we just know that the seemingly random brush strokes and shapeless colors of one artist are consistently better than the seemingly random brush strokes and shapeless colors of the other."

The backgrounds of the pieces by Boris don't relate to the foreground subject. The backgrounds in the Frazettas offer avenues of movement or direction in relation to the subjects. The seemingly random brush strokes of the Frazettas are not random and have purpose so it all feels right. The shark floats upward towards the area of light and the girl feels suspended yet is gently descending as per her hair. She is also above a descending underwater mountain that forms a draped arc feeding into the shark and all this is contributing to the wonderful motion as Astroluc put it.

Even in the fourth Boris where the background and foreground begin to make some sense, the female is disconnected, striking an unrelated pose and looking off in another direction. And yes, the high chroma in the background isn't serving the subject matter (as it is in the piece Kev referred to by Frazetta), but is fighting the foreground in several pieces.

Though it's true Frazetta's backgrounds are superior to those of Boris, I'm not sure it's just the subtler backgrounds alone, but I get your point that one sometimes just knows, often without understanding that they are in the presence of something good. The same may hold true per the abstract pieces, even if that something is little more than a monumental focus on something limited in scope. Yet, I wouldn't venture to know why one would choose between the Olinski or the Frankenthaler.

Sean Farrell said...

sorry, missed an important comma here:

often without understanding, that they are in the presence of something good

kev ferrara said...


The relationship between abstraction and evocation is key. And it ties into representationalism. If you take abstraction in its correct sense as a poetic concision of some experience presented in the form of a summary, then what visual abstraction isn't representational, in the sense that it successfully evokes? (If it doesnt evoke what it abstracts, it isnt much of an abstraction, definitionally)

Consider then the idea that what must make a successful abstraction, is the degree to which it evokes some natural phenomena. Which puts all abstraction within the purview of represenationalism. (Frazetta isn't painting fire photographically, but is interpreting it through his abstract conception if it, using abstract elements, such that it convinces as representation.)

Another way to think about it: Isn't fire itself, visually, only experienced as an abstract phenomena? Isn't the far distance underwater as seen by a scuba diver only experienced as an abstract phenomena? What about splashing through mud puddles?

You want to see a pollock, stand between two trucks rushing through deep mud puddles. A Frankenthaler, try a dust storm.

Kandinsky, on the other hand, is generally not an abstractionist, but a graphic designer, like the constructivists.

xopxe said...

How about "antiquated bad, antique good"? Or "mannered bad, plain good?"

Richard said...

"(If it doesnt evoke what it abstracts, it isnt much of an abstraction, definitionally)"

The difference here I would argue is that when one intentionally abstracts away from reality they have a goal in mind. What they will arrive at, at the end, will have a hard-limit set by the powers of their own imagination and planning.

Generally, what an "abstract expressionist" is doing, is working from nothing, making marks to find an image, find an evocation.

The sort of works you get out of the two are very different. I like work from both camps, but for entirely different reasons.

If an "abstract expressionist" is arriving at paintings that only evoke because they look like highly-abstracted representations than that artist is not doing his job very well.

"Kandinsky is [...]a graphic designer."

Well, sure. Abstract Expressionism is intensely design focused. Are you arguing that what Kandinsky does is less than what Pollock does, because the Kandinsky is designed, and the Pollock abstracts from reality?

Richard said...

I should add that one can "evoke" feelings, without evoking representations. That is the goal of an Abstract Expressionist.

kev ferrara said...

All we have is the finished product, the piece of Art. Everything evidentiary, all applied philosophies, is there for us to see in the work. Relying on purports and reports of process is to trust words more than evidence.

Kandinsky is just different than pollock.

Ultimately, my belief is that representations of feelings and representations of references cannot be distinguished. This is a very old philosophical theory related to the nature of the conception as abstract in nature, and abstractions, in turn, as necessarily a form of feeling.

Sean Farrell said...

Helen Frankenthaler, Jules Olitski and also Paul Jenkins enjoyed success in the 1970s after long careers in color field painting. Next up was Julian Schnabel in 1979 with a new vocabulary of broken plates on massive canvases.

The criteria for much of what was going on at the time involved as little as whether or not the materials and look had not already been trampled upon. The non representational art of the era included the minimalism of Robert Mangold and the abstract expressionism of Al Held, yet both possessed hard edges and bold colors.

Whether the art of the era evoked feelings or provoked interesting thoughts or even observations on how certain elements reacted to each other, seems to have gotten lost along the way to classifying the isms. Yes, it goes without saying that artwork with clashing elements such as the Boris images qualify as bad, but what classifies merit from that point onward can sometimes get very thin as all had a good laugh with Tom Wolfe in The Painted Word.

Part of the subjective nature of the art business was it seemed, that fine artists had very cool sounding names, like Bryce Martin, Edwin Dickenson or Roy Lichtenstein. In this respect, there was a similarity with the commercial artists, who also had their own version of very cool sounding names like Austin Briggs, Coby Whitmore and Bob Peak.

Tom said...

Boris's highlights break up the forms of the body creating too many competing lights which causes the disagreeable feeling of to many values.  The skin is almost as reflective as metal. Fanzatta does not place highlights on the actual skin. Thus reducing the value range in his figures which of course gives a bigger impression of the large masses that constitute the body and we sense the whole before the parts. A reduced number of values will always create a large impression and feels much less confusing as the masses are not broken up by little distracting lights and details that call for the eye's attention. Just as the little lights overwhelm the masses of the body they also overwhelm the large tonal masses of the picture itself.

Frazetta also keeps his lightest lights for the center of interest, he doesn't allow the lightest lights of his value range to enter into the background plane
Thus keeping the spatial planes of foreground, middle ground and background distinct.  Even the highlights on Frazetta's knight's amour  hold their position in space compared to the highlights on the skin of Boris figures. The more details you add, the more values you will need.  But Boris's intention my have been to grab the eye of the viewer with as much bling as possible.he also really encourages one to examine the details of his pictures.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't be able to tell what it is, but Boris' art (which I just found out about through this post) looks like some airbrushed mess you'd find on the side of an 18-wheeler. Talk about camp and garish.

Frazetta was a master of using rendering contrast and tonal range to bring attention to the subject.

Boris's paintings are over-rendered messes. Everything looks like plastic and has the same tonal/value/saturation range and the images have no focal point.

If you want to shame this Boris guy even more, you could compare him to Jeff Jones heheh.

Sean Farrell said...

As per names, I was thinking of Knox Martin and Brice Marden, mixed them up and misspelled it at that.

Tom and Anonymous, I agree and you have made your points well.

kev ferrara said...

Tom, although you are mostly off the topic of background abstraction, you continue to demonstrate actual knowledge about picture making. Now come clean, are you an illustrator or not? Or did you just get all that from reading the Harvey Dunn notes? ;)

David Apatoff said...

Etc, etc-- While in these particular examples, Frazetta's backgrounds have more straight lines and Boris has more soft lines, I'm not sure that always holds true. Rather than suggest an " architectonically sound and stable" feel, I'd personally say Frazetta's straight lines suggest a dynamic, thrusting feel.

Laurence John-- Perhaps I was misleading, but I didn't mean to suggest that Frankenthaler or Olitski were predictably superior and inferior, the way I think Frazetta and Boris are. Both have done work that I admire. I really picked these two examples because they are representative of good color field painting and because one has a smooth, seamless look that could fit in the background of Boris' pictures and the other relies heavily on a conspicuous texture that could fit comfortably in the background of Frazetta's pictures.

Richard-- I agree that we can find recognizable shapes in "abstract" color field painting, but I would go a step further to argue that we can often find such shapes in abstract expressionism too. We can't help it, it's like a rorschach test.

David Apatoff said...

LCG-- I agree.

Sean Farrell-- I agree with your central point, that the Boris paintings are disconnected; he has superimposed one form on another with none of the integration that Frazetta offers. And I certainly agree, it's not just the backgrounds. But to continue with your evaluation of the Frazetta shark painting, how do you account for the blue halo around the upper half of the girl? It is disconnected to any other ocean color and the shape makes no sense, unless Frazetta was altering the figure and couldn't match his original blue color. Similarly, that yellow ochre color near the shark's mouth is totally anomalous, yet it too works. And how to account for that line extending from the woman's hair? Water doesn't behave that way, but abstract design does.

Kev Ferrara-- I assume when you say, "You want to see a pollock, stand between two trucks rushing through deep mud puddles. A Frankenthaler, try a dust storm." you are not trying to insult Pollock or Frankenthaler, but rather point out the real connection between seemingly abstract images and the aesthetics of nature. Or am I not being cynical enough?

You draw an interesting distinction between Kandinsky the abstractionist and Kandinsky the graphic designer. I have not heard that before, but I'm not sure it carries me all the way home. Where do you classify Klee, whose abstract shapes and colors felt more organic and less geometric?

Anonymous said...

I'd personally say Frazetta's straight lines suggest a dynamic, thrusting feel.

By no means did I mean to suggest that the "architectonically stable" could not be dynamic and thrusting; that was in general Italian Baroque and Rococo in a nutshell (of which I always wonder why Frazetta heads fail to see the connection, but it is simply by being unable to perceive form beyond the appeal of the fantasy subject matter).

Tom said...

David I think Frazetta added the blue behind the woman for 3 reasons. First the blue is darker in value reducing the contrast between the background and the woman's shadowed back and  her dark hair  while simultaneous increasing the contrast of her light struck buttocks with the background (you've got to give your male viewers a point of interest). The third is the blue brings out the orange color an warmth of the human body  in the woman's back.

Maybe the yellow ochre  keeps the eye in the plane of the two figures.  It stops the eye from drifting back into the depth of the blue.

Hi Kev 
I thought the point of the comments section was to go off topic. 
No I am not an illustrator, but I paint and draw.  It seems like I mostly draw.
I  comment because it helps with my own work.  Not Harvey Dunn, the artists/ teachers I got the most from are Vernon Blake and Philip Rawson. Of course I would not be surprised if they said many of the same things as Dunn.

I always like Ingres comment on highlights, "they are great gossips, muzzle them."

David Apatoff said...

Etc, etc.-- Then we are in agreement.

Tom-- Your three reasons for that blue oval behind the woman are all reasons that Olitski or Frankenthaler would put that blue there-- visually, it looks great. But in terms of the non-abstract subject matter of the picture, I can't think of any justification for a discrete blue oval like that in the middle of the ocean. Don't get me wrong, I think it was the right thing to paint, I just find it "disconnected" from its watery environment.

P.S.-- I know you also linked the role of the blue to accentuating the woman's buttocks, but I suspect male viewers needed no assistance finding those buttocks. Especially, it would appear, Antonio who still seems to be locked in a death struggle right now with an angry woman from the "Patterns" discussion two posts ago.

kev ferrara said...

You had me right, David. I wasn't being cynical. (I'll return to Klee presently.)

Like what you wrote, Tom. I feel the same way on all counts.

By definition, that which is stable does not thrust. Last I checked. Are you guys talking about the same compositional elements?

Anonymous said...

By definition, that which is stable does not thrust. Last I checked.

Did you check a Saturn V rocket? Seriously though, on a purely semantic level I'll admit it can seem to be a contradiction of which I'm not willing to commit myself to defend at the moment.

kev ferrara said...

I get a sense that you think you have an ace in the hole because you are discussing this in the context of architectonics. But there is a hierarchy of stability. If an element seems to thrust, it must be so that it is more activated than stabilized.

Laurence John said...

"Perhaps I was misleading, but I didn't mean to suggest that Frankenthaler or Olitski were predictably superior and inferior, the way I think Frazetta and Boris are"


in that case then there really are no "viable standards of quality" when it comes to abstract painting. the composition and gestural marks are arbitrary. the viewer reaction is just a question of personal preference. some will
prefer De Kooning. some will prefer Newman.

chris bennett said...

Tom wrote:I always like Ingres comment on highlights, "they are great gossips, muzzle them."

That's great! I've never heard that quote of his before. Thanks.
Especially good because many people would confuse the aesthetic purpose of Ingres' smooth, quiet surfaces with Boris Notgoodenough's all-purpose vulgar bling wax.

kev ferrara said...

I would say that Klee is a very intellectualized cartoonist, at the top of the pile that includes Steinberg and Miro and Calder and Picasso and Arp and Girard and Moore and Twombly and maybe Hirschfeld. Cartoons are, I think obviously, highly related to graphic design (and display typography)... Both more like the other than like narrative painting and both tending to mime their expression and to exaggerate what they reference without actually being evocative. (The more evocative, the more like illustration... Picasso's Man of La Mancha, for example)

kev ferrara said...

I would define Cartoons as figural graphic designs.

Richard said...

kev - "Cartoons [...] reference without actually being evocative."

I think you're just expecting them to evoke in a way different from what is natural to their form.

Cartoons are a rather different language than Illustration, their elements mean by way of icon. They are closer, in that way, to a visual language -- they reference, rather than being objects of intrinsic meaning unto themselves.

No more do I accuse cartoons of failing at Illustration, than would I accuse actual words of being too abstract. Abstraction, and reference, are instrumental to their system of semiosis.

Richard said...

What's more, with cartoons there is an element of literacy, as would be expected from abstracted languages, that is not necessary in Illustration at large.

If you don't know the meaning of a character standing very straight with three vertical lines "|||" on their cheek, if having a male character squint his eyes and have a large nose bleed caries no meaning to you, then you won't appreciate what the image is saying.

If you don't know why this --
(* ̄m ̄)

means something subtely different from this


then the form will be lost on you.

Richard said...

Cartoons then have two elements --
one which is almost typographical, how is something cartooned, which is the more obvious of the two elements, but the less important of the two to actual meaning. The latter is what is this specific cartoon saying.

kev ferrara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Richard said...

Okay. That's what saying an entire artform doesn't evoke sounds like.

kev ferrara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Richard said...


gabriel said...

i never appreciate nor understood abstract painting before. but this post definitely gave me an 'ohhhh now i get it' idea.

thank you so much for this post david.

Anonymous said...

Here's some interesting abstract art that has explicit and exquisite form.

Sean Farrell said...

David said: But in terms of the non-abstract subject matter of the picture, I can't think of any justification for a discrete blue oval like that in the middle of the ocean. Don't get me wrong, I think it was the right thing to paint, I just find it "disconnected" from its watery environment.

David, a very good point. The designing taking place with the oval and tilted straight line is a bit conspicuous and I know of a Jasper Johns piece employing a similar turned bar and coins. It's part of the motion created by the shark and woman but might have been better disguised, or perhaps he wanted the viewer to see it.

I can't say for certain regarding the yellow, but the yellow coming from the shark may allude to the sense of smell and be part of the slow motion tense moment.

I thought you were commenting on the texture of the backgrounds alone and entirely missed that you might have been commenting on the design. Sorry about that.

Jack R said...

As my art professor said to us decades ago, "tube colors", and it didn't mean that in the positive.

Aleš said...

Anonymous wrote:"I wouldn't be able to tell what it is, but Boris' art (which I just found out about through this post) looks like some airbrushed mess you'd find on the side of an 18-wheeler. Talk about camp and garish."

Yes, I've seen quite a few Vallejo's (and Lois Royo's) art airbrushed on cars, motorcycles, helmets and tattooed on skin. They are both masters of fantasy/erotic kitsch and certain subcultures that identify themselfs with this subject matter use them alot (they use Frazetta too, which might be one of the reasons why general public have a probem accepting Frazetta as a true artist. To many fans of fantasy narratives he appears to be, like Boris, just another subject matter provider for their shirts, tattoos, motorcycle tank paint jobs, etc)

What I always disliked about Boris's art is that his warriors/barbarians look like bodybuilders. But steroid bodybuilders are not fantasy characters, they exist only in our real world so Boris's characters always create this tension/uncompatibility between the body and it's ornaments/surroundings, they seem to float outside of the context of the illustration's narrative. Fantasy warriors are nomadic, barbaric products of rough nature/surroundings, some were born as slaves, they fight giant apes and two headed dragons, climb steep mountains and forest vines, they eat greasy boar legs and sleep under the empty sky. Bodybuilding is closer to a fashion show and has nothing in common with fantasy barbarism.

Bodybuilders live highly organized lives, their meals are composed of precisely measured amounts of albumen, carbon hydrates, empty calories, they fool around with glycerine, potassium, salt and alcohol to pop up the veins, they use diuretics and synthetic clothes to excrete the water from under the skin, they deliberatly dehidrate themselfs to look like muscle anatomy poster from biology class. Since the muscles grow while sleeping some bodybuilders perform daytime beauty naps. They depilate their bodies and lubricate it with cosmetic lotions (to accent the muscle/vein definition) and oils (shine). Nobody except bodybuilders look like a bodybuilder, so when you paint a warrior that looks like a bodybuilder, you also paint all the characteristics of a bodybuilders way of life.

When a warrior expresses an identity of a bodybuilder, doesn't he have to answer all the silly questions that pop up in my mind? Where does he perform his daytime beauty sleeps? Among the mountain ogres wandering around? Who oils his back and helps him with clothes when he's alone on an adventure? How easy is it to save a princess after drinking diuretics? Look at these paintings (Boris on the right). Where did Atlas go to get a mullet haircut? Or the last painting, where a giant looks like simply a sized up normal warrior. Boris's inability to step into his fantasy worlds and imagine his scenarios also prevents him from using the necessary gestures and poses of his characters. His warriors are never actually fighting, they just seem to be stretching in front of a fantasy themed stage scenery, doing bodybuilder poses to the jury. Everytime I see his illustrations I have to wash my eyes with soap. (I can somehow tolerate bad color choices and dull compositions more easely than nonesense like that)

I agree with you all about his lack of color knowledge and imaginative range. He is also getting worse every year, his intention seems to be to perfect this razzle dazzle of saturated glowy colors and shiny, polished surfaces. While his mental inability to experience what he's drawing is apparent from early work on, I think the lack of polishness and photorealism made his 70s and 80s stuff a bit more bearable (he was also probably still under strong Frazetta influence).

P.S. If you havent heard of Boris before, check Julie Bell ;)

Aleš said...

David wrote:"But in terms of the non-abstract subject matter of the picture, I can't think of any justification for a discrete blue oval like that in the middle of the ocean."

I'd say it could be a bottom of a distant boat. (the oval might be too wide for a typical boat shape tho. I too doubt that Frank had anything concrete in mind while painting that. What Tom wrote are probably the main reasons)

kev ferrara said...

Not sure why this particular Frazetta has become exhibit A on this topic. This is one of those he toyed around with through the years, a second or third tier work, and it seems pretty obvious that it now exists in an unfinished/never to be finished state. (Check the girl's hand, for instance.) So the blue oval may simply be an unfinished matter, not some foray into meaningless abstraction by Mr. F.

All the Frazetta's posted herein are weak, imo.

David Apatoff said...

Gabriel-- if this dialogue does anything to open the lines of communication between abstract art and representational art, I will regard it as time well spent.

Etc, etc-- "explicit and exquisite" indeed-- these are great. More evidence (as if any were needed) that Hegel, Herbert Read and many other thinkers were on the right track when they said that the starting point for our artistic taste is nature.

Jack R-- Amen.

David Apatoff said...

Sean Farrell and Kev Ferrara-- I did not intend the Frazetta shark picture to serve as an example of Frazetta's best work. To the contrary, I was trying to avoid comparing classic Frazetta masterpieces to mid-range Boris paintings. I really wanted to create laboratory conditions for a fair comparison of those backgrounds, without a lot of distractions. Is the shark painting unfinished? The thought occurred to me too, but Frazetta did sign it, and I can't believe he was incapable of matching that blue. The blue is "disconnected" as a subject matter but the design works, while the "disconnected," hard edge figures in the Boris just fragment the picture and look awkward.

Tom-- I agree with your analysis. I believe in approaching all pictures with a little good will, but you are certainly giving Boris the benefit of the doubt when you write, "Boris's intention my have been to grab the eye of the viewer with as much bling as possible. he also really encourages one to examine the details of his pictures." Other artists have found ways to make covers stand out on the newsstand without resorting to such ghastly measures. I suspect the best way to encourage viewers to examine details is to not be indiscriminate with your details. When everything is important, nothing is important.

Ales-- That is a fine (and very funny) comparison of Boris and Frazetta paintings. Did you put that together? It certainly makes the point, letting the pictures speak for themselves. I assume you have seen Boris' body builder Jesus?

kev ferrara said...

The signature means nothing as to whether it is finished or not. Some of the works he worked on long term have the same signature as when he first began (Conan The Buccaneer, Flashman at the Charge). Some, the signature is changed (Catgirl).

For all we know he surrounded the girl with blue because he was testing the color in an essential area of the composition, to see if he should color the entire thing in that blue.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- I think the signature means that it was in fact finished at one point. Of course, that doesn't stop it from becoming "unfinished" later on. At which point was it finished, and at how many other points along the way did it become finished again?

Frazetta's judgment didn't always get better with the passage of time. That's one of the toughest decisions about picture making-- when to stop.

kev ferrara said...

Couldn't agree more, David.

Anonymous said...

Everything about Vallejo's work screams "kitsch".

Aleš said...

Kev Ferrara said: "This is one of those he toyed around with through the years, a second or third tier work, and it seems pretty obvious that it now exists in an unfinished/never to be finished state. (Check the girl's hand, for instance.)"

That arm indeed looks unfinished. It is not just drawn with a few strokes (like he draws out of focus objects), the arm seems to be half way constructed. I didn't even notice it.
I do have a question for you. Do you think that Frank (as an artist of a ceratin artistic tradition that spans from Pyle) would even consider leaving such a big blue oval shape without making it obviously enough to represent something physical, material?

Here is a quote from one of his interviews: "The overall design and composition is what I’m after. Then I fit the drawing into those shapes, unlike some artists who may sit there and just draw the figure, then try to build around the figure. I design the overall background, foreground shapes, interesting shapes, patterns, and I do it very quickly. And when I like the shapes, I just squeeze the character in."

Here is a quote regarding the Spiderman painting: "... and I started getting letters from people asking about the green swirl: What is it? What did it mean? Was it an alien? They were reading all sorts of things into that patch of green. I didn't have the heart to tell them I just thought the painting needed a little green for interest. I wasnt trying to create a mystery."

Now I know both of these quotes cannot be used as arguments for the abstract oval shape because the first quote speaks about the compositional layout in which the representational objects would relate to each other, and the second quote doesn't describe the patch of green as an abstract thing, it just shows that Frank didn't invent a story for that physical green slime in the water.

What I'm thinking about is that "I design the overall background, foreground shapes, interesting shapes" and "painting needed a little green for interest" seems to me close to being able to paint some abstract shape just because it, as Tom said, connects everything. But of course, being close doesn't mean actually doing it. I checked quite a few of his paintings on the internet and It doesn't seem he would ever do that (I found Dancer from Atlantis 1 and 2, where those shapes probably serve to accentuate the rythm of the musical theme of a painting), so you're probably right in expressing doubt about that oval thing.

(Also, was this painting ever printed in one of his books alongside other finished work and was it ever sold as a poster? Maybe that would say something about if Frank considered it to be finished.)

kev ferrara said...

Hello Aleš,

Frazetta says he didn't consciously invent a story for that patch of green in Spiderman. But if you've ever crushed an insect or two as a kid, you'll know you can get some pretty bilious colors of goo coming out of them. So the color green, while a surprise, still works on a narrative level. And Frazetta certainly made it real enough as a patch of green to be believable. "Just enough" realism is probably a good way of viewing how Frazetta combines abstraction and realism. I don't think that blue oval around the floating girl or her hand, or most of the picture besides the shark is finished "just enough" to be believable. I think its one of those picture he toyed with now and again hoping for further inspiration.

Also, you really cannot trust what Frazetta says in interviews. There are times where he is coy about his process, where he changes the subject away from composition, where he is self-aggrandizing, or self-deprecating, where he mis-remembers, tells white lies, tells people he never used reference, and then laughs at the idea that people believe him. He may say he's all about abstraction, and then you find a very detailed preliminary of the image.

And Ellie Frazetta was desperate for new product from her husband as time wore on, so posters were made from works that were unfinished or not very good to satisfy the market interest.

Really, all we have is the work. If a work looks finished and well composed, it is worth talking about as a finished Frazetta. That underwater image to me seems half baked. (Or boiled, as it were.)

Aleš said...

Thanks Kev, I have nothing to comment now. (I do have a feeling sometimes while reading his interviews, that Frank was building his own myth with some of his statemens. Not that it matters tho (well, it can be depressing if you blame yourself for not being able to achieve the same (not the quality level of his work, but just working under the supposed conditions (like drawing only from the head as you mentioned (which I have no doubt that he was capable of from a certain point on in his career)))), it's the work that counts)

David Apatoff said: "Did you put that together?"


I liked many of these kitschy illustrators through my youth. We didn't have any fantasy artists in my country and my only source of this stuff was a Heavy Metal mag that was sold in one store that specialized with foreign magazines. Out of all the crap I liked in there (btw have you seen Royo’s more abstract art?), Boris was the only one I always disliked. I obviously didn't have an aesthetic taste to reach that position, I simply fund him too unimaginative from the logical, rational point, he never put any thought in forming unique worlds for individual paintings.

All of his illustrations are happening on the same planet with the same stone formations with the same atmospheric effects, all of his characters are basically the same bodies with different faces, none of the jewelry or weaponry that his characters use reflect any specific identity of time and place, they are just randomly designed to look designed (which makes them look like they all belong to the same assembly line) and the outfits, hair styles are also thrown together without any sense. His Amazon queens wear pirate boots, there is an image of male/female combo fighting eagles, where she is wearing some prehistoric bikini (like Raquel in One million years BC) while the male is wearing brown Levis, many of his illustrations that are supposed to exist in some distant, ancient, unfamiliar fantasy world (well, I'm not really familiar with all the publications that those paintings were supposed to illustrate) possess concrete, identifiable things like faces that look like a movie star or todays hairstyles (that Atlas with a mullet always bothered me because I've never seen it before our TV started to air Jerry Springer show (I do know that the hair style goes back for millenniums, but still, I can't help it)). It's like he is asking Flavor Flav for suggestions or maybe he rolls a giant slot machine with images of outfit concepts that goes *ding* after matching completely random stuff.

I've seen Boris's Jesus painting. I noticed it when it became an internet meme (it had “Fuck your sins I’m going home” and “Super Jesus: Where is your Satan now?” written over it) and it was linked across various discussion boards. There are no words to describe it. It has a quality of stiffness, frozeness and flatness that only the deadest religious paintings by pensioners possess and a content out of Mad magazine or something. There were probably Spanish inquisition torture devices squeaking and grouching in some museum when he was painting that.

kev ferrara said...

Just occurred to me that I lumped in "Alien Crucifixion" with the other lesser paintings by Frazetta in here. I actually think AC is an excellent image, though the figure isn't terribly well painted. Didn't mean to disparage that piece.(TWIMC)

Robert Cook said...

I was in a life drawing class at the Art Student's League a few years back with painter and illustrator Max Ginsburg and there was a very handsome and affable young man in the class who drew beautifully. All I knew about him was that his name was Dorian and he had known Max for some time. In fact, Dorian was not even a registered member of the class; he would drop in to to draw due to his apparent friendship with Max. I gathered Max had been Dorian's teacher previously at another institution, (possibly at the High School of Art and Design, where Max had taught for years). Toward the end of the year as class was about to end, we were having a little class party with refreshments and informal conversation. I heard Max make a comment to another student about his "son-in-law" being the son of the illustrator Boris. I asked him who his son-in-law was and he said it was Dorian, (who was not in class that night and, as it turns out, was married to Max's daughter, and yes, was Dorian Vallejo)!

I expressed astonishment but also felt compelled to interject that I did not care for Boris' work, and Max had to agree he did not either.

Dorian is still active, and his forte seems to be drawing and painting beautiful women in indeterminate dreamlike settings.

kenmeyerjr said...

David (and Kev), I wonder where you place Paul Jenkins as relative to Frankenthaler, et al?

As many have said, for me, it's the plastic nature of Boris that puts me off...everything is too rendered, while Frazetta seemed to know (intuitively or from his experience) what to make a focal point, where to add detail, what to leave obscure, etc. As much as the palette, for me, it is the actual strokes get the feeling of a warm human hand making that art, whereas (as someone pointed out), Boris' work can appear airbrushed, cold, and overly rendered. I actually liked him more early in his career, and his black and white work over his color work.

kenmeyerjr said...

And, from the Vallejo clan, lately, I am liking Julie's work a lot.

Spider Rico said...

Being a professional illustrator for fifteen years and a professional fine artist for the past ten, clearly this is written by someone who has not created and has been anesthetized by the illogical and intellectual doctrines forced down the unknowing throats of the public and artistic community since the birth of modernism. I love Frazetta, and Frank himself would tell you straight up - this is pure hogwash.

Spider Rico said...

I have been a professional Illustrator for fifteen years and a fine artist for the past ten with an MFA in painting from the School of Visual Arts. I have extensive training under painter Steven Assael, and I have taught painting and illustration at the School of Visual Arts. I am a HUGE Frazetta fan, but show some respect. I know Frank would tell you himself, this is nonsense. You my friend, are not an artist. You are spewing artistic doctrines that have been jammed down the unaware public's throats by critics and the artistic intelligentsia since the birth of modernism. Frazetta himself would dismiss you for even mentioning Frankenthaler in your post along with himself. Do not talk about others weaknesses without garnishing the skills, risks, guts, blood, sweat, and tears it takes to succeed as an artist. Your post serves nobody but yourself. The New York Art world is filled with highly educated, intelligent, non-creative literati with opinions. Do not aspire to add to their numbers. This is a manifesto I learned at the Art Students League when I studied there as a teen. Lots of opinions by talented, or in most cases, untalented no names who never had the guts to step up to the plate. Criticism is easy, creativity takes guts. I would remove this disrespectful post immediately. If you want to discuss in person, I am in New York City and would happily meet you on any street corner.

Gianni Monteleone
Fine Artist
New York City

Unknown said...

Dear Gianni,

As a professional illustrator myself, occasionally also a fine artist, I understand your points completely, and in most ways, agree with your post. However, I'd ask you to verify for yourself that David has lauded Doyen Frazetta on numerous occasions on this blog. I respectfully admire the passion of your post here, and only ask that you might consider that David is doing his best to be even-handed in a blog that has been running for many years.

Unknown said...

Dear Gianni,

As a professional illustrator myself, occasionally also a fine artist, I understand your points completely, and in most ways, agree with your post. However, I'd ask you to verify for yourself that David has lauded Doyen Frazetta on numerous occasions on this blog. I respectfully admire the passion of your post here, and only ask that you might consider that David is doing his best to be even-handed in a blog that has been running for many years.