Inside Texas Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez’s Art Museum

Robert Rodriguez is one of Texas’ best known contemporary filmmakers. So why has he set up a temporary art museum in Austin?

By Laura RiceMarch 16, 2015 9:53 am|

Robert Rodriguez is a prolific filmmaker best known for Sin City, Spy Kids and From Dust Til Dawn among many others.

Rodriguez has taken over a space near the Texas capitol in downtown Austin. The exposed brick walls are lined with framed work by fantasy artist Frank Frazetta.

“And some of these here I used to have hanging on my bedroom wall,” Rodriguez says.

Rodriguez says when he was a kid growing up in San Antonio, he devoured Frazetta’s work – which showed up on the covers of comic books and paperbacks including Conan the Barbarian, Tarzan and The Death Dealer.

“And me and my brother had just never seen anything like it,” Rodriguez says. “Like most people who’d seen that art for the first time, you’d never seen anything like it. We used to go home and try to draw from it and trace from it. Not knowing someday I’d get to actually know him, meet him, work with him and then be entrusted by the family to be sort of a steward of his legacy.”

The work features battling men with bulging muscles, warrior women with curves and dangerous creatures – often with fangs, horns and wings. The backdrops are fiery or misty and mountainous.

Rodriguez doesn’t consider himself the only filmmaker inspired by Frazetta.

“George Lucas, James Cameron, (Guillermo) del Toro, they all talk about how much they’re inspired by him,” Rodriguez says.

But he says Frazetta’s work is often copied and uncredited – and Rodriguez wants to bring attention back the original artist. Which is just what he did with dark comic illustrator Frank Miller in Sin City. Frazetta’s work will get a similar treatment in Rodriguez’s upcoming film Fire and Ice.

“Using technology to create moving Frazettas. Trying to capture his imagination in film somehow,” Rodriguez.

In truth, Rodriguez considers himself an artist in general more than just a filmmaker.

“Well I started as a cartoonist,” Rodriguez. “I started drawing because that’s the easiest art to make. Even though I was making home movies pretty easily from a young age because I was in video but still you have to get a camera, you have to get someone to be in front of the camera. Art is still the simplest way to create a world. My kids all do it. We love the idea of sitting down, getting a blank piece of paper and knowing, in 10 minutes, there will be something there that didn’t exist before. That’s an immediate power and fun and very addictive.”

Part of his mission is to share that feeling. On set, his actors create paintings in between scenes. Also at the museum are collaborations between Rodriguez and Lady Gaga, Bruce Willis, Rosario Dawson and Josh Brolin.

“The first few might have been tentative at it but, as soon as they saw they were able to do it, they were up on the walls. So the next group of actors that come in, I say, ‘this one Rosario did and she just did this, and this is what Josh did and this is what Jamie Cheung did.’ And they go, ‘give me that paint.’ And they have no doubt because they’ve now seen proof that it works,” Rodriguez says.

The gallery is open to the public through Saturday. Organizers say a $10 entrance fee benefits the preservation of Frank Frazetta’s art.