Stephen Colbert tricked Steve Martin with the green paint chip.
Then there’s Banksy.
And the urinal mounted on a gallery wall.
And Bob Ross and the palette knife gang.
Maybe fine art is a vast conspiracy to coax the cash from the pockets of the wealthy. Maybe artists should just explain more, as the minimalist painter Rabo Karabekian does in “Breakfast of Champions.”
“I now give you my word of honor,” he went on, “that the picture your city owns shows everything about life which truly matters, with nothing left out. It is a picture of the awareness of every animal. It is the immaterial core of every animal – the ‘I am’ to which all messages are sent. It is all that is alive in any of us – in a mouse, in a deer, in a cocktail waitress. It is unwavering and pure, no matter what preposterous adventure may befall us. A sacred picture of Saint Anthony alone is one vertical, unwavering band of light. If a cockroach were near him, or a cocktail waitress, the picture would show two such bands of light. Our awareness is all that is alive and maybe sacred in any of us. Everything else about us is dead machinery.”
Yes, that is “The Temptation of Saint Anthony,” a green square with a thin, vertical orange band.
Art is both a shared experience and something deeply personal. It is the substance that makes us human. In its ubiquity, art creates a paradox that Vonnegut so beautifully captured in Mr. Karabekian’s abstraction.
People can’t live without art, but they thrive on doing their best to dismiss what others consider great or fine.
So, I wasn’t surprised to learn in the documentary “Frazetta: Painting with Fire,” that the world of fine art thumbed its nose at Frank Frazetta’s works of fantasy.
Frazetta was an illustrator. He painted and inked album covers, book covers, movie posters and comic books. He could have done anything he wanted – portrait artist, photo realist, abstract expressionist, whatever. He chose to illustrate the fantastic – all from imagination.
What struck me about this snub was the fact that Frazetta’s illustrations were allegories. He presented entire narratives in a single frame – not unlike many classical artists who painted biblical scenes, as the movie notes.
Granted, Frazetta’s images were creepier and way sexier.
The fine art community shunted Frazetta, but he amassed a huge fan base. Turns out I’ve been a huge fan without really knowing or understanding the artist. All those Conan images, the Death Dealer and all those curvy, voluptuous ladies. They are awesome and alluring and quire deserving of as much praise and attention as any other fine art.
Frazetta was more than a Molly Hatchet cover or a Dungeons and Dragons fantasy.
He was simply amazing. Frazetta banged out his most iconic and inspiring paintings in a single evening. Even at 8 years old he could out-paint any adult. And following a debilitating stroke later in life, he switched to his left hand.
Ralph Bakshi brought Frazetta’s work to life in the 1983 film “Fire and Ice.” Bakshi is prominent, and at times the comic relief in the documentary “Painting with Fire.” By the end of the documentary, I felt ashamed for knowing so little about an artist I have long admired. Then again, with a little humility, I can now face the rest of my days with a better appreciation for art with my battle axe held high and a fine maiden cowering at my ankles.