Guest Blog: The Unsung Apprentice – The Sword and Sorcery Art of Ken Kelly. By Paul Batteiger

 

 

 

As part of my guest blog series I am proud to present another guest blog spot. Paul Batteiger the blogger/author behind the New Iron Age blog has been kind enough to write a guest blog post for MightyThorJRS today. I am very excited and I would like to thank Paul for the opportunity to host this Guest Blog. 

Would you like to be a part of my guest blog series? Please contact me! (mightythorjrs@gmail.com)

Now without further adieu here is Paul’s awesome guest blog.

And don’t forget to check out his blog:

New Iron Age – http://new-iron-age.blogspot.com/

And a link to his Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/new_iron_age

 

 


 

 

The Unsung Apprentice

By Paul Batteiger

 

It would be strange to call Ken Kelly an underappreciated artist, considering he has had a long and extremely successful career, and that at the age of 71, he is clearly among the old guard of living fantasy painters.  No, what is interesting about Kelly is that so much of his work and life have flown kind of under the radar.  We see his work all the time, especially in the realm of Sword & Sorcery art, but the man himself is not a presence.

cropped-5f27ecedafda6a6ddee30eb387200447.jpg

The People of the Black Circle Cover

Ken Kelly has essentially made a career out of being a slightly off-brand Frazetta or Vallejo, incorporating elements of both their styles without falling into simple imitation.  What a lot of people don’t know is that Kelly is actually related to Frank Frazetta – Kelly was Ellie Frazetta’s maiden name, and so he is actually her nephew, and thus Frank’s as well, though not blood-related.

cropped-22034923230_14d2265f7c_o.jpg

The Hour of the Dragon Cover

This association is not really played up by Kelly, perhaps out of respect, or perhaps from an interest in making his own name.  Apparently early in his career Kelly was able to observe his famous uncle at work and study his paintings, thus absorbing some of his techniques, though supposedly, Frank took certain of his tricks of the trade to the grave with him.

caac9c78a4a43d75ac3431a411003480--conan-the-barbarian-red-nails

Red Nails Cover

Kelly did not really follow a typical artistic path.  He was always drawing, from a very young age, but he did not pursue art school, instead opting to join the marines.  In ‛68 he emerged from the Corps and found himself drawn back into illustration.  He showed his uncle Frank his work, and received encouragement and even some teaching.  This would have been right when Frazetta’s career was really starting to blow up, right as the Sword & Sorcery genre itself was emerging again, along with fantasy literature in general.  Along with all the printed books came a huge demand for artwork.

2da99caa60c10d1a8e1343e3fb79c309

Almuric Cover

Frazetta’s health declined in the mid-80s, just as the call for more and more fantasy art was increasing.  Now there were not just book covers to do, but album covers, comics, and movie posters.  Kelly was more than ready to step into the breach, with his style that is evocative of his more famous uncle, but not imitative.  Kelly Does not have quite the dynamic, bold feel for composition as Frazetta did, but he has developed his own approach that juxtaposes sharply-rendered figures with often dreamy, misty backgrounds.

Ken-Kelly-Original-Oil-Painting-Tomb-of-Deception-

Skull-Face Cover

Prolific and quick, Kelly became the go-to man for books and comics that wanted muscular barbarians and scantily-clad slave girls set against evocative backdrops of jungles, ruins, and sometimes impressionistic washes of color.  Kelly’s use of color is a striking part of his work, as he has a much bolder sense of color than Frazetta did, and is not afraid to paint with contrasting shades and use them to create a more dynamic image.  If you look at Kelly’s work, often the composition of the forms can be rather static, but the fierce colors add an implied violence and action to the scene.

e2f09317865c81a9e681267120f2936b--conan-art-pictures

Marchers of Valhalla Cover

Kelly also widened his appeal by doing covers for popular albums.  One of his first big breaks was painting the iconic cover for KISS’ breakthrough album Destroyer, and since then he has painted two more KISS albums covers as well as one for Rainbow and Ace Frehley.  By far his most recognizable association is with love-them-or-hate-them metal stalwarts Manowar.  Kelly painted five covers for them, producing vivid images of barbarian violence and naked flesh that had a huge impact on the visual look and mythos of the band.

Ken-Kelly-Destroyer

With the loss of Frazetta, Kelly has kind of accidentally moved into the position of the preeminent S&S artist, and his real genius is calling upon the built-up vocabulary of fifty years of fantasy art to create images that are exotic and vibrant, and yet also familiar.  Sometimes you will look at a Kelly and swear you have seen it before, but you haven’t.  He is just very good at distilling images in the mass consciousness into illustration, and in that there is a timelessness to his work, as the stuff he painted thirty years ago looks as vivid and fresh as when he painted it.  He is a popular artist in the very best sense of the word, because he does his job of painting what people want to see, even if they didn’t know it.

658680bbd33d466956067263ccb578c9

 Darkness Weaves Cover

 

All images found on google images.

All art is credited to Ken Kelly.

http://www.kenkellyfantasyart.com

 

 


 

 

Paul Batteiger is a freelance writer from Oklahoma who runs the Sword & Sorcery fiction blog New Iron Age.

New Iron Age – http://new-iron-age.blogspot.com/

And a link to his Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/new_iron_age

You can also buy his S&S novels here:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/577000

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/693517

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/727759

 

 


 

 

 

  9 comments for “Guest Blog: The Unsung Apprentice – The Sword and Sorcery Art of Ken Kelly. By Paul Batteiger

  1. November 3, 2017 at 11:53 pm

    Great stuff. I have a ton of trading cards of his art from back in the day.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. November 13, 2017 at 1:16 am

    I really enjoy Kelly’s art and have many, many books with his covers on them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 13, 2017 at 2:21 am

      He is one of the best! Thanks for checking out my post!

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: