Everything in Martin Frias’ life is big.
He’s shot thousands of concert photos and more than 500 album covers and written at least 2,000 articles for Popular 1, the Spanish rock magazine he founded 40 years ago.
Even one of his closest friends — Salvador Dali — towers in artistic stature.
And now the famed photographer and artist is enjoying a sizable exhibit that spotlights rock royalty (Freddie Mercury, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen) in the W Atlanta Downtown.
“Rock Iconic” — Frias’ first exhibit in a hotel — is stationed in the Living Room of the W through April 19. While perusing the collection — curated by Frias’ Atlanta-based art director, Zoya Conover, and Denise Jackson of Emerging Art Scene Gallery — you might notice the shot of a long-haired, baby-faced Roger Waters from Pink Floyd’s 1975 tour; it’s a photo that Frias calls his third favorite among the 17 massive selections that bring a spirited energy to the room.
So what are his top two picks?
Before the Barcelona-reared Frias will answer, he leans forward and asks in his thick accent, “Which do you prefer?”
I tell him the photo of Robert Plant, bending slightly to the right and looking mischievous.
“That is mine, too. He is a special man. Led Zeppelin was, for me, the first band and Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ the most important rock opera,” Frias says, tucked into a couch under the watchful gazes from photos of Marilyn Manson and Georgia’s Chris Robinson, both taken in the mid-to-late ’90s.
Frias recalls taking his first rock photos — “A long time ago,” the 66-year-old says with a warm laugh — and designing his first album cover in 1965 for the Spanish band Los Mustang. It wasn’t a photo, but a Frias-painted profile of a horse with the band members’ faces placed inside.
These days, Frias is more interested in painting than photography, noting that Robinson and Manson were “special cases” who came to his studio in Spain for their shoots; likewise guitarist Steven Van Zandt, who spent 14 hours getting framed by Frias.
“I’ve done everything in photo, but my challenge is paint,” he says. “You can have very good images, but if you’re a painter, you start from nothing, a white canvas. I am a painter who does photos, not the opposite.”
But his catalog is undeniably special, frozen moments in rock history that will never be duplicated.
He’s traveled with Springsteen and the Rolling Stones, talked art with Bowie (“He is a very polite man.”) and established a friendship with Mercury, whom he refers to as “his favorite.” He also distinguishes the live shot of Mercury in the exhibit as his second favorite, sandwiched between Plant and Waters.
“Freddie was a friend of mine,” Frias says. “He invited me to all of his parties, and they weren’t conventional parties. In New Orleans one time, 200 people were invited and 200 people entertained us, like table dancers, naked people, small people. He had Dixieland bands perform, and every hour, a new band would come in from the back of the room, like at a funeral.”
Frias would happily talk for hours about the past, but he’s equally as enthused about the future. He will release a novel in Spain later this year — and eventually in America — and will dedicate more time to his paintings.
Retirement, however, is not part of the conversation.
“The Rolling Stones are almost 70,” he says with a smile, “and they’re still working.”
“Rock Iconic” is on display until April 19. Free. W Atlanta Downtown (Living Room), 45 Ivan Allen Jr. Blvd., Atlanta. 404-582-5800.