Saturday, December 10, 2011

Frazetta: Warming Up

These are consecutive pages from an early 1970's sketchbook. Actually, the first two images come after the others in the line of creation. The blogger site mixed up the sequence. In these pages Frazetta was warming up to do the large King Kong oil where Kong battles the huge snake. These pages lead up to that final watercolor study. Unfortunately the study was clipped from the book and sold before I could capture it in its integrity as a full sketch page.

This gives an idea , once again, of Frank's working methods. In this case he used these slight pencils as simply a warm up to get a "feel" for the kind of line he wanted and the type of pose. Notice all the clipped pages in the first photo of the open sketch book. I wanted to preserve the authentic look of these "butchered" sketchbooks. Ellie sold it all for quick cash and Frank didn't think it was important enough to save images for posterity. I told him time and time again, but he wouldn't listen. He thought I was nuts to be so concerned about studies.

I recall my earliest visits when all his sketchbooks would be lined up on his cabinet shelf. You could follow the flow of Frank's creative juices year by consecutive year in those books. Now, they are ALL gone and pages resting in collectors' closets, and under their beds, and in their trash cans, and god knows where else. Am I bitter? You bet I am. What a loss to art history. Not being able to preserve and document the nonstop creative flow from such an artistic genius is a sin against art history. I was hitting my head against a brick wall. I saved what I could. It wasn't easy getting any of these photos. I had to wait until Frank was in the right mood and make sure that Ellie wasn't around to stop me or start a fight with Frank. I thought it was important enough to make some serious efforts in this regard.

This highlights another issue for Frazetta collectors, namely, authenticity. Sometimes a real Frazetta doesn't appear to be by Frazetta because it is simply one of these very minor warm up pieces. As I said, Ellie sold everything, both the good and the minor. Other times, there are faux-Frazetta pieces out there that give a hint of Frazetta and easily deceive the uninformed eye. There are a LOT of forgeries out there, some very sloppy, some rather skillfully done with the direct intention to deceive for profit. Pages are carefully torn, stains are added, and loose lines abound in all these phonies. Many of these are laughable in their over earnestness to deceive. Others take a trained eye to spot. All I can say is: be VERY careful. At the end of his life even Frank had a hard time figuring out what was his work. Ellie, of course, was hopeless. She simply dismissed many authentic pieces as forgeries. I have story upon story about these encounters with collectors. They all ended-up calling me to try and get the real story. I have seen 99% of Frank's sketchbook work, so I have a real good idea about what is what. I collected samples of all the types of paper Frank worked with. I used to do all the forgery analysis for Frank and Ellie, but I have now given up. I'm not getting paid and there is more and more in the marketplace. It's not a good situation. I cringe when I hear about people paying 2-3K for a forged piece of nonsense.

When HERITAGE bought the 3 big Frazetta sketchbooks from the Alexander Gallery, their intention was to break them up, cut them up, and sell the extra originals for enhanced "cut up value" as they called it. I contacted Jim Halperin and asked him if he could send me scans of all those pages before the knife hit them so I could possibly reassemble them for posterity in their full integrity. Jim owed me a favor. I was writing the Frazetta descriptions in those early auction catalogs and I had introduced Ed Jaster to Alex Acevedo of the NYC Alexander Gallery in San Diego and gave Alex his first HERITAGE catalog. Jim Halperin and Alex hit it off and HERITAGE bought Alex out, including tons of Crumb and the Harvey Warehouse art archives. They had also bought the 1952, 1954, and 1962 Frazetta sketchbooks almost in their entirety. Jim asked one of his assistants to provide me with the images. Lo and behold I received a CD in the mail several days later. Quick work. I was ecstatic. The pages would be preserved. I stuck the disc into my computer and my heart sank.....EVERY image was small and blurry. They photographed the pages and, whoever did it, royally screwed up. I gave up. It just wasn't meant to be. Jim tried to help, but we were thwarted by someone just not paying close enough attention to his job.

The pages got cut up and sold. I managed to buy 4 complete pages to rescue them. I posted three of them in an earlier essay; they were studies for the men's magazine illo of the floating girl.

It's too bad none of Frank's serious fans in the 60's made the effort to preserve these images. I tried. Failed.

Oh well...

(c)2011 DocDave Winiewicz


  1. Thank you for sharing the beautiful art and stories, and for your efforts in preserving this work.

  2. Dave, it is wonderful to have your view into Frank's history, unclouded by financial motivations that seem to dominate this world now. Thank you so much for your efforts in sharing all of these amazing sketches and works that we have never seen--it is a bittersweet pleasure for sure--but an invaluable asset to those of us who enjoy his work for what it is rather than what it can sell for.

    I was lucky enough to make it over to the museum twice and having stood as close to original Frazettas as possible (without setting off the alarm), I fully appreciate your frustration that they are being taken away from the communal realm. I was moved to tears standing before the Conan the Berserker painting, admiring the sublime quality and reflecting that it was just a simple man from Brooklyn with hardly any real training who created this with a brush and an ugly pallet of paint. It's a travesty that the fans of the world have lost the opportunity to come and see them in this way.

    You try to express the aura of his works often in your writings but you probably find it frustrating, as I do, that the simple fact is that there really are no words that convey the weight, the presence, the technique, and the power. It simply must be witnessed in person.

    But still, your photos of work that is lost, sold, or otherwise hidden from us and your enthusiasm for sharing them is a treasure.

  3. Thanks guys! Your words of encouragement keep me motivated. Any one who has ever visited the museum knows that intimate connection that these works bring. It is transforming, which is what great art SHOULD do!


  4. Thanks for sharing! Much appreciated. It's really a shame learning about all those lost sketchbooks. I don't think Frank ever realized how valuable that information would be to younger artists like myself. For us, his sketches and rough works are more valuable than his paintings. Looking at his sketches is like looking into his mind.

    DocDave, Since it was mentioned that you've seen a lot of his sketches, I was hoping if you could shed some light on this one:
    I've seen it sold on auctions, and it's a great piece, but I have no idea of Frank did this one or not.

  5. I looked at the sketch, but the image is way too small to comment. As I said, I don't do that any more. I'd have to see the paper, etc. I just cannot say one way or another.



  6. Dave,

    Cannot thank you enough for your tireless and sincere efforts. Frankly, I thank the maker for your existence. Perhaps if there was no Dave Winiewicz.... all these priceless insights on Frank Frazetta might have been lost forever.

    That said, I must ask the question, (if you haven't posted something before). Why is the estate of Frank Frazetta in such.... disarray?

    With the travesty of the F.F. Museum, sketch pieces floating around with out certificates of authenticity, sorry to say these stories of Ellie selling chopped up sketch pages for as you say "quick cash" is very disheartening. To top things off, there's talk of Robert Rodriguez "hijacking" (my choice of words, pardon) the Frank Frazetta Museum off to Austin, Texas (?!)

    It reminds me of J.C. Leyendecker and how his estate fell into ruin due to the people around him and the artist not taking better precautions about the ultimate fate of his works.

    Commercial or fine artist, Frazetta is one of the great titans of the 20th Century. He more than deserves to be in the same sentence as Leyendecker or Rockwell. Why isn't his work being sent to MoMA and not Austin, Texas for what I fear is going to be a "theme attraction spot"??

    Why hasn't the Society of Illustrators come to Frank Frazetta's rescue?!

    If I sound like I'm ranting please excuse me, but it just doesn't seem right.

    If you could shed any light on this Dave, anything you would have to offer would be greatly appreciated.


  7. Thanks for your comments, Ki. I have been right in the middle of all this chaos for years. Now I look at it from the outside. Many things are currently playing themselves out. I don't know what will happen, but I pray for the best outcome. I certainly agree with much of your concern.

    I am staying far away from everything except for continuing the spirit and legacy of Frazetta. I don't want his name to be marginalized or diminished with time. I want it to get stronger.

    As with all things...time will tell.

    Thanks again.


  8. Ki,

    I have to confess I am quite hyped regards the Rodriguiz involvment in breathing life into frazettas proposed art gallary / museum. On the grounds that, firstly, something is better than nothing and the fact that Rodriguez's name itself will expose new fans to Frazettas work. I only heard of Frazetta through word of mouth about 7 years ago

    I am not having a pop at you here, I totally respect our opinion, just merely expressing my view.

    I am basing my main 2012 holiday around a trip to that museum.

    What is scandalous is the fact the Da Vinci exhibition tickets(in London) have all sold out via the official channel and now greedy - scum of the earth ticket sites are re-selling at up to £400!!!! a ticket. That's another issue for other ears anyway.

    Have a merry xmas

  9. I've just ran across your site here trying to glean some more knowledge from Frazetta's style. As a drawer/painter myself, I've always loved how he created his pure genius pieces with layers of washes and kept that "watercolor-esque" feel even with his oils. As you are probably fully aware, it's really drawing....with paint.

    What you've described in these very view pages I've seen about what happened to a ton of his artwork is quite frankly a horror story. I'm a little bit sick right now.

    Now that I found this blog...I know now what I'll be doing for the next couple of day...non-stop! :-)