martedì 25 luglio 2017

Fantasy Visuals: Boris Vallejo

Following Frank Frazetta, for some time there was no other big name in Fantasy and Sci-Fi art: then Boris Vallejo started painting. Born in Lima (Peru) in 1941, he was 13 years younger than Frazetta, but he experienced a similar career path: a precocious talent as well, he went to Art School and, after it, started working in advertising. In 1964, when he was 23 years old, he moved to the USA to attend the National School of Art, but again for more than 10 years the only art he practiced was the painting of posters for commercial brands. At last, Vallejo's talents were spotted and in 1976, when Frazetta was already a very famous artist, the young Peruvian started getting commissions for covers in Fantasy and Sci-Fi comics and books, films and music albums.

I am a barbarian (1975)
Tarnsman of Gor (1976)
Conan (1976)
His style was directly derived from that of Frazetta, and early works are indeed very similar. The two artists have often been compared, although always to the detriment of Vallejo - but to be fair nobody can really compare to Frazetta. Still, during this “Frazetta” years, Vallejo produces his finest images.
Tarzan (1978)

Golden Wings (1980)
Nomads of Gor (1980)
Then, around the 80s, Vallejo’s style starts to change. He gradually abandons the style of Frazetta and he becomes more interested, almost obsessed, with the female body: particularly the body of his muse, the gorgeous Julie Bell who would eventually become his second wife. Vallejo's women are sensual, almost erotic: they draw from the princesses of Frazetta but while those are sketchy and distant, those of Vallejo are more realistic and close, almost at touch distance from the viewer.

Vampire's Kiss (1979)
Alone (1980)
Soap (1981)

This is another golden time for Vallejo, but it is, in some way, short-lived. The evolution in his style hasn't stopped and it blooms in the mid 1980s. Around this time, Vallejo starts to work with body builders, men and women, and his attention to detail becomes obsession, so much that his paintings look like actual pictures. Careful composition is abandoned and the main subject becomes everything: highly-detailed, photorealistic and shiny models with props (swords, fur or metal underwear, helmets) pose on a generic, simplified background that does not even match the lighting of the subject. Sometimes, next to them, there is a fantastic creature/monster to add to the Fantasy feeling, but more and more rarely do the two figures interact. Overall, Vallejo’s painting becomes descriptive and lacking a real passion that can be transferred to the viewer.

Invictus (1982)
Against the odds (1984)
Rowing (1985)
Leo (1987)
The 90s and 2000s are more, and worse, of the same stuff.

Pegasus (1991)
Hot Sun (1995)
Ax the enemy (1997)

Still, Vallejo has been an enormously successful and influential painter, with a career spanning decades and still ongoing at the time of this post. Not only in Fantasy art, especially on all American Fantasy artists like Elmore, Easley, Caldwell, but also on the plethora of unnamed painter of sexy, naked women with bird or butterfly wings, set in natural, flowery, bubblery or glittery scenes, which are arguably one of the most toxic kinds of art ever.

Butterfly Wings (1979)
First Love (1981)
Flowering Nest (1994)

A slender thread (2000)
European artists, as we will see, would go in the opposite direction: little to nothing of this can be found on the eastern side of Atlantic. Frazetta can be considered a father and teacher to all Fantasy artists worldwide. Vallejo represents the point where American Fantasy Art, made of carefully drawn characters in complete fantasy settings and situation, diverges from the European one, which would go for gritty sketches and nods to historical elements.

I am not a huge fan of Vallejo, as you might have guessed. But some of his works are just great. As usual, I conclude the post with my favourites, which are in many cases the most sexually explicit. You are welcome to add or list yours in the comments.

Instants (1979)
Leather Jacket (1980)
Flight of the Dragons (1981)

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