When Spanish painter and photographer Martin Frias asks me who my favorite rock band is, I say, "The Beatles." I can tell by the mischievous glint in his eye that this answer is far from correct. "That's not rock 'n' roll," he laughs, rolling his "r's" in a thick Catalan accent. "That's pop music."
I guess he would know. We're huddled up on a sofa in the Living Room of the W Atlanta-Downtown, where Barcelona native Frias is reminiscing about his four decades of behind-the-scenes moments with some of rock's most notorious names, including the Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger ("He's rock 'n' roll," Frias assures me), Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant, Queen's Freddie Mercury and even Georgia's own Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes. Photos of these rockers - and a few of Frias's pal and fellow Spaniard, Salvador Dali - are on display through April 19 as part of the W's "Rock Iconic" exhibit. Many of these exclusive Frias snaps have never been seen before by American audiences.
"My favorite was always Led Zeppelin," Frias says of shooting bands during the heyday of classic rock. "Robert Plant was like a model in pose, and on stage, also incredible - with that long hair." Frias's stories about hanging out with Plant (whom, along with Alice Cooper, he calls the "classiest" stars) might be less provocative than, say, his crazy night in New Orleans with Freddie Mercury or his funny encounter with the sweetly obtuse Ozzy Osbourne, but as photographs, each of these memories is equally arresting.
A contemporary and friend of Baron Wolman, who served as Rolling Stone magazine's inaugural photo editor in the late 1960s, Frias made a name for himself as a popular photographer among musicians touring through Europe in the 1970s. Wolman and Frias exhibited together in the mid-2000s, but "Rock Iconic" is the first major solo showing of his work in the U.S..
Frias also enjoyed an intimate friendship with famous surrealist Dali, with whom he shared a love of models and rock 'n' roll. As a member of Dali's counter-cultural inner circle, Frias had unprecedented access into the artist's life, home, cavorts and cohorts (including disco "queen" and Roxy Music cover model Amanda Lear.) "Dali wanted to know everything about the lives of these musicians and their friends and girlfriends," Frias says of their long chats, "He couldn't sing, but he thought he was a rock star. When he posed for me, he would make jokes, 'Do I look like David Bowie?'"
That an exhibition featuring Dali and rock stars would end up in Atlanta instead of New York or Miami isn't a surprise to the city's art and music fans - or to the venue.
"W Atlanta-Downtown's passion for music made the 'Rock Iconic' exhibit a perfect fit," says the hotel's general manager Tim Dahlen. "Whether we're hosting an after-party, showcasing a live performance or serving as the host hotel to musicians performing in the city, our space embraces the opportunity to introduce great music to guests and locals. 'Rock Iconic' offers insider access to four decades of legendary rock n' roll through the lens of Martin Frias. That's not something you can get anyplace else."
Rock Iconic runs through April 19 at W Atlanta Downtown. Click here for more info.