The Austin Chronicle

Robert Rodriguez Opens Frank Frazetta's Archive for Austin Show

By Richard Whittaker, February 19, 2015, 11:00am, Picture in Picture

There are few fantasy artists more influential and yet often overlooked than Frank Frazetta. As the eyes of the creative world settle on Austin during SXSW, local one-man film industry and Frazetta superfan Robert Rodriguez will be mounting a week-long exhibition of his work in Austin.

On his phone, Rodriguez has a series of shots of Frazetta's genre-defining works of high fantasy high art. The artist's work often referenced books like At the Earth's Core, Conan, and the John Carter, Warrior of Mars series. Yet his visual style, rich with slithering demons, ax-wielding barbarians, and sensuous warrior women, was distinct, and often replicated and referenced by younger artists. As Rodriguez flicks through, the director points out the painter's Renaissance-influenced flair for composition, and his detailed style. But seeing them online is nothing to the experience of seeing the work in person, and that's why Rodriguez will be displaying some of the master's greatest works.

The long-term plan is to build a permanent home for at least some of the Frazetta collection here. However, the real goal for Austin's favorite Troublemaker is to bring back the artist's reputation, and give audiences a chance to see the individual brush strokes, and his grasp of light and shadow. Rodriguez said, "A lot of great art is created on computers, but there are no originals. To see that somebody was moving paint on a canvas and creating these images, people who do it digitally can never capture that magic."

The show will include 12 of Frazetta's most famous and influential works, as well as original art by legendary poster artist Drew Struzan, comics icon Frank Miller, hyper-realist Sebastian Kruger, and sculptor Clete Shields. If that's not enough, the exhibition will also feature props from Rodriguez's films, as well as self-portraits by cast members of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, including Lady Gaga, Rosario Dawson, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

It's a busy time for Rodriguez (isn't that always the case?): He's lining up directors for Season Two of his TV show adaptation of From Dusk Till Dawn, chatting with others for his In the Director's Chair interview series and deep in pre-production on his own long-gestating remake of Frazetta's 1983 collaboration with Ralph Bakshi, Fire and Ice. That's the culmination of a lifelong drive to make a film inspired by Frazetta's imagery. "I always thought I could make art move," said Rodriguez, "I ended up doing it with Sin City, but the original idea was Frazetta."

Rodriguez first announced his plan to bring the fantasy icon's collection to Austin back in 2012, and held similar temporary shows across SXSW 2014. "I came up with it the week of SXSW," he said. "I'd see all these signs for all these events, and I went, oh my god, I should just be showing the Frazettas. We had such a great response from people that just stumbled upon it, let's put out a little more advance word this time." This time, the display will feature what Rodriguez calls "the master works," with several new pieces not shown last year, including Frazetta's self-portrait, and his axe-wielding Death Dealer II.

Some pieces will come from Rodriguez's own collection, which started when he was a young boy. "Those little Ballantine books they put out, The Fantastic Worlds of Frank Frazetta, Volumes 1 through 4, I had those since I was 11, and I would cut out Moon Maid and Chained and stick them on my wall." As a nascent filmmaker, age 12, he videoed his bedroom, and years later showed the footage to the Frazettas. "Now the originals are on my walls."

Being a director helped that collecting itch, and by 1996 he was able to commission the artist to draw a poster for the original From Dusk Till Dawn. It was the perfect moment of synergy, since he conceived of Selma Hayek's character of the Aztec vampire queen Santanico Pandemonium as a tribute to Frazetta's warrior women. "[Frazetta] said, 'Where did you find that girl? I wish I had a girl like that to paint.' Well, I based her on your paintings. Moon Maid. At the Earth's Core. It's that girl that you always paint. He said, 'Well, all you need on the poster is her,' but he begrudgingly put George Clooney and the other guys at the bottom."

The two men became friends and, after Frazetta's death in 2010, Rodriguez said, "The family came to me and said, he always trusted you, he always liked your business sense, it was very similar to how he worked, could you help us figure out what to do with the art?" He immediately discouraged them from even considering selling off his legacy, and instead encouraged them to help restore their father's reputation as a major fantasy artist. "People are always ripping them off. Let's stop ripping them off, and let's start creating intellectual property that we can monetize that way, so you can hold on to the art."

Sadly, that From Dusk poster was never seen in cinema lobbies. Frazetta was working more slowly after a stroke, so the studio went with a Photoshop job instead. Yet the original still hangs in Rodriguez's house, and will be part of this show. That's a dream come true for the young director who grew up staring at cheap reprints from his bed, and he takes real joy in showing them off the originals to this day. There's famous footage of a slack-jawed Miller seeing them for the first time, while it was virtually the first thing a visiting Jon Favreau asked about. Rodriguez said, "To see it up front and up close, it's a thrill I never get tired of."

Robert Rodriguez presents the Frank Frazetta Gallery, March 14-21, noon-8pm, 920 Congress Ave. A $10 entrance fee will go toward the preservation of the art.

There will also limited edition giclee prints available of the art, with gallery standard reproductions of Fire and Ice, Chained, Moon Maid, and From Dusk Till Dawn.

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