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Freas, Frank Kelly

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Artist.

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(1922-2005) American illustrator, born Frank Kelly; he added the last name Freas after his stepfather adopted him, and was often known professionally simply as Kelly Freas. For many years, Freas was sf's most popular artist, and he surely qualifies as its most productive; after half a century of steady work, his accomplishments were staggering.

After some freelance jobs and military service during World War II, the self-trained Freas decided to pursue his longstanding interest in science fiction by submitting a sample of his work to Weird Tales; that led to his first genre assignment, the cover of the magazine's November 1950 issue, showing a dark, Pan-like figure playing a pipe. In addition to some interior art, he went on to paint hundreds of covers for numerous magazines, most famously for Astounding but also Fantastic Universe, If, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Planet Stories. His first Astounding cover, for the October 1953 issue, probably remains Freas's best-known work, illustrating Tom Godwin's "The Gulf Between" with a mournful-looking robot holding a man's bloodstained body; among other reappearances, it was used as the cover for Harry Harrison's anthology Astounding: The John W Campbell Memorial Anthology (1973), the cover for Queen's 1977 album News of the World, and the cover of Freas's own compilation Frank Kelly Freas: As He Sees It (2001). He also painted covers for many book publishers, including Gnome Press, Ace Books, and DAW Books, and in the 1970s he was assigned to paint all of the covers for the ill-fated Laser Books series. While his work could be whimsically humorous in the manner of Edd Cartier, he and Ed Emshwiller also helped to redefine sf art in the 1950s with their gritty realism. As one indication of his popularity, Freas won the Hugo Award as Best Professional Artist ten times between 1955 and 1976. During that period, Freas also worked energetically outside of the genre: he painted five hundred portraits for The Franciscan Book of Saints (1959); did many covers for Mad Magazine, originating the iconic figure of Alfred E Newman; and designed the astronauts' shoulder patch for the Skylab 1 Space Station mission in 1973.

In the 1980s, at an age when many men would be retiring, Freas remained an active cover artist, producing among other works some distinctive covers for several DAW Books republications of novels by Clifford D Simak as well as additional magazine covers. Following the death of his first wife Polly in 1987, Freas married artist and music historian Laura Brodian Freas, who became his business partner and occasional collaborator, and the couple became a fixture at science fiction conventions, graciously interacting with fans and promoting Freas's works. He was also receiving additional awards: one Chesley Award for his and Laura Brodian Freas's cover for the Autumn 1989 issue of Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine, showing a man resembling Freas sitting at a desk filled with tiny creatures; two additional Chesleys for general artistic achievement; and a 1999 lifetime achievement award from Writers and Illustrators of the Future. After his death in 2005, he was also inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.

Despite the wide variety of his work, Freas is perhaps most renowned for his light-spirited portraits of vigorous vagabonds, amiable Aliens, and jaunty scoundrels, rendered in a broad range of soft colours. His playful creativity, visible in literally thousands of paintings and drawings, remains impressive to this day, and posthumous republications of his works will undoubtedly ensure his lasting fame. [JG/PN/GW]

see also: Frank R Paul Award.

Frank Kelly Freas

born Hornell, New York: 27 August 1922

died West Hills, Los Angeles, California: 2 January 2005



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