-By Arnie Fenner
Part of what makes an artist stand out in the marketplace—regardless of whether that "market" is commercial art or fine art—is their style. Ideally, "style" is a unique and instantly identifiable expression of everything that has gone into making an artist...an artist. Intellect, training, skill-set, passion, influences, imagination, intent: all combine to help an artist find an original voice.
On another level, style can be viewed as little more than a technique: a formula that can be endlessly replicated to achieve the same results (or close to it) again and again. There are many artists that possess a chameleon quality and are able to make their work look like anyone's they choose.
Now people tend to grouse when one artist works in the perceived style of another (who almost invariably is more successful at that point than the person following in their footsteps): sometimes the complaint or criticism is legitimate, sometimes it's not (usually when primarily medium or subject matter form the basis of the opinion).
Frank Frazetta is a good case in point.
His style is readily recognizable and literally brimming with situations, poses, and gestures that are his trademark. Frank would bristle and complain about one artist or another who "imitated" him: sometimes he was correct, but in other instances his feelings weren't justified. He (like many of his fans) came to believe that sword & sorcery was a thing that he could, for lack of a better term, own—and that any oil painting of a barbarian was somehow ripping him off.
He was wrong. Of course he was. And what Frank tended to forget later in life was that, just as he had been influenced by (and continued throughout his career to show the influences of) J. Allen St. John, Roy Krenkel, Al Capp, Hal Foster, Graham Ingels, and many others, the next generation of artists were just as profoundly influenced by him and their art merely reflected that.
Some, like Frazetta, were able to use their influences as a springboard into formulating their own "voice," their own style, and criticism of them as being Frank's clones were way off base. Others...well...others fell short for one reason or another, became artistically hamstrung by his influence, and were never really able to emerge from the shadow of the person they admired.
Either way, though, when the subject of "style" comes up in conversation my response is almost always the same:
No one can own a "style." No one can own an "idea," either.
All that counts—all that truly matters—is what an artist does with both. What they do with the tools at their disposal (and that includes their influences) will make or break their work. And if someone can work in Frank Frazetta's "style" (since I'm using Frank as an example here) and achieve the same results and create art that exhibits the same power as Frazetta's does without devolving into copying Frank's figures or compositions or solutions...
It becomes their style, not Frazetta's or anyone else's...doesn't it?
Above: Frank Frazetta on the left, Boris Vallejo on the right.
Above: Ken Kelly on the left, Sanjulian on the right.
Above: A pair of Jeffrey Jones paintings.