Art & Design

Photos That Are Too Hard Too Keep

By Mito Habe-Evans   |   Wednesday, November 10, 2010
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Food in Focus

Tuesday, November 2, 2010
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Center Stage

Tuesday, August 24, 2010
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Frank Frazetta

By Carlo Rotella   |   Monday, August 23, 2010
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by Carlo Rotella, 89.7 WGBH
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Frank Frazetta died recently. I’d argue that he was a pretty important American artist, and certainly an influential one. He was the undisputed master of the genre of popular art that features mighty-thewed barbarians, pneumatic odalisques, and slavering beasts. If you’re old enough to remember head-shop aesthetics of the 1970s, especially those custom vans that had bubble windows and perhaps a bumper sticker that said “If the van is rockin’, don’t bother knockin,’” then you probably remember the Frazetta-inspired swordsmen painted on the sides of many of those vans.

You might have seen Frazetta’s own work: his paintings on the covers of Conan and Tarzan paperbacks, or on the covers of Nazareth or Molly Hatchett albums, or in the Frazetta calendars that sold so well back then. You could roadmark the coming and going of the days—social studies paper due on Monday the 9th, doctor’s appointment on the 11th, tickets for the Yes concert go on sale on the 12th—all under the stern gaze of a Frazetta icon like the axe-wielding Grim Reaper, or Conan posed with broadsword planted point-down atop a rampart of slain enemy.

The news of Frazetta’s passing dredged up a memory from back when I was thirteen or fourteen. A used bookstore near my school had a book of reproductions of his paintings. I’d go in there every few days to look at it. There was one in particular that drew me, depicting an Atlantean ruin in the desolate calm after the flood. The waters in the foreground are still, reflecting a temple in the background, its pillars toppled and broken, and the statue in the foreground: an idealized Hellenic warrior in crested helmet, loincloth, greaves, and little else, seaweed hanging drippingly from the shaft of the long spear balanced on his shoulder.

The book cost too much, and after a few weeks I did a bad thing: I quietly broke the spine, removed the Atlantean scene and a few others I liked, slipped them into my notebook, and left.

I think the reason I had to have it was also the secret of Frazetta’s appeal for me: for all the menace and gory action, he was strangely soothing. Life is complicated, adolescence seems extra complicated to those undergoing it, and the 70s, when the wake-n-bake hangover of the 60s met a stagflationary new order, felt like a particularly trying moment to be a kid. In the world of Frazetta’s paintings, things seemed consistent, simple, reassuringly timeless, and, therefore, oddly peaceful. The dire, pulpy melodrama of his pictures soothed me back then—maybe just because it was always gloriously the same, a touch of steadiness in an unsteady time.

The Artists' Mind

By Alicia Anstead   |   Thursday, August 19, 2010
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"It would be naïve to think that a game like Bananagrams—or any game for that matter—couldn’t have an artist’s brain behind it"

When you think of the great contributions to American visual art, you may think of Winslow Homer and his watercolors of the civil war. Or Georgia O’Keeffe and her ubiquitous flowers. Or Maya Lin and her Vietnam Memorial.

I’d like to add one more name to that list: Abraham Nathanson, creator of the board game Bananagrams. I’m not suggesting that a board game is like a painting. But I am suggesting that the imaginations of artists may be broader and more useful to us than we sometimes give them credit for.

Nathanson attended Pratt Institute of Design in Brooklyn, NY in the 1950s after the war. He went on to become an industrial designer. But he was also a jewelry designer, a fine-art photographer and children’s book illustrator.

Although he may have been an artist his whole life, Nathanson’s game fame was rather brief. But it was an auspicious and swift rise to glory. He was in his middle 70s when he invented Bananagrams for his grandchildren who visited him during summers in Pawtucket RI. And he was 80 when he died on June 6th. In 2009, the Toy Industry Association named Bananagrams “Game of the Year.” Millions of the little yellow crescent purses holding letter tiles have been sold in this country.

I had never heard of Nathanson before I read his obituary in the Boston Globe this week. The story caught my eye because it had the words “artist” and “Bananagrams” in the headline. You don’t often see that combination. I suspect Nathanson thought of himself as an artist in relationship to his photography and to his jewelry. But it would be naïve to think that a game like Bananagrams – or any game for that matter – couldn’t have an artist’s brain behind it.

One of the major benefits of art is that it makes us think more creatively. It helps us become better synthesizers, cross-discipline thinkers and problem solvers, even if the problem is: What should I do with my grandchildren when they get bored this summer? I wonder what would happen if we asked artists like Nathanson to help us solve some of our bigger problems such as health care or the devastating gusher down in the Gulf of Mexico. I’m not saying there’s a direct line from Bananagrams to world peace. But there is a connection between imagination and solutions to both the trivial and the tragic. Just ask an artist.

About the Authors
Alicia Anstead Alicia Anstead


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