Wednesday, January 14, 2009

STORY TELLING ON CANVAS


To the millions of Americans whose lives were touched by his work, he is the best known and best loved illustrator of the twentieth century. For nearly seven decades, Norman Rockwell chronicled on canvas the heart and soul of America. In many of his best-known works he visually idealized the clean, simple country life of his childhood. In others he introduced middle America to the products of progressive urban life: the telephone, radio, electrical lighting, television, airplane travel, and the space program. Later in life, he devoted himself to more serious subjects: civil rights, the war on poverty, and the Peace Corps.
The simple eloquence of his familiar style belies his painstaking creative process. Each painting began by carefully setting up the scene and photographing it or sketching it from life. After a series of black-and-white pencil sketches, he would do color studies. The final oil painting would invariably include the excruciatingly minute details that make his work nearly impossible to forge.
And like other masters, Rockwell had a unique talent for uncovering the everyday, human side of even his most famous subjects. He preferred common faces. He compared the excitement he felt painting the face of a successful person to a slab of warm butter. He readily admitted that the America he depicted was the country he hoped it could be, and considered his pre-1960s work to be more escapist than realist. There are few artists who better exemplify the dichotomy between high and popular art in the twentieth century than the man who gave Americans an endearing and enduring vision of themselves.
(Anistatia R. Miller, published in 1994. © 2008 The Art Directors Club)


Freedom from Want, 1943
The Saturday Evening Post, March 6, 1943 (story illustration)
Oil on canvas
The Norman Rockwell Museum of Stockbridge (Massachusetts)
From artchive.com


Freedom of Speech, 1943
The Saturday Evening Post, February 20, 1943 (story illustration)
Oil on canvas
The Norman Rockwell Museum of Stockbridge (Massachusetts)
From artchive.com



The Connoisseur, 1962
The Saturday Evening Post, January 13, 1962 (cover)
Oil on canvas mounted on board
Private collection
From artchive.com


The Connoisseur pinpoints the puzzlements of newfangled modern art, even inventing a plausible Jackson Pollock, whose drip techniques Rockwell apparently enjoyed imitating, even in his sixty-eighth year. Do we have here a Mike Bidlo avant la lettre?
(From Robert Rosenblum, "Reintroducing Norman Rockwell", in "Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People")


Triple Self-Portrait,1960
The Saturday Evening Post, February 13, 1960 (cover)
Oil on canvas
The Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge (Massachusetts)
From artchive.com


There is no doubt that Rockwell, who was unhappy to think he occupied so low a rung on the ladder of high art, demonstrated again and again that he was knowledgeable about museum worthy traditions and even the latest mode in modern art, which lured him to Paris in 1923. His Triple Self-Portrait tells all: a bittersweet joke of the lightweight Yankee facing not only his own bemused mirror image and a big white canvas, but also a tacked on anthology of small reproductions offering noble precedents for self-portraiture - Durer, Rembrandt, van Gogh, and, most surprising, a particularly difficult Picasso that mixes an idealized self-portrait in profile with an id-like female monster attacking from within. He once avowed that Picasso was "the greatest," and it might be wondered whether Girl at Mirror, in which a young girl compares herself to a glamour-puss photo of Jane Russell, is Rockwell's homespun homage to The Museum of Modern Art's masterpiece.


Girl at Mirror, 1954
The Saturday Evening Post, March 6, 1954 (cover)
Oil on canvas
The Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge (Massachusetts)
From artchive.com


Art Critic, 1955
The Saturday Evening Post, April 16, 1955 (cover)
Oil on canvas
The Norman Rockwell Museum of Stockbridge (Massachusetts)
From artchive.com


Rosie the Riveter, 1943
The Saturday Evening Post, May 29, 1943 (cover)
Oil on canvas
Private collection
From artchive.com


If we are far enough away from World War II to relish nostalgically some cheerleading from the home front, Rockwell offers Rosie the Riveter, in which Michelangelo's Isaiah becomes a muscular, lipsticked redhead equipped with a lunch box, a phallic rivet gun, a white bread ham sandwich, and a copy of Mein Kampf kept underfoot. These days, gallons of academic ink could be spilled over the feminist issues foreshadowed in this campy icon of macho womanhood at war.
(By Robert Rosenblum, "Reintroducing Norman Rockwell", in "Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People)
Painted for the cover of the May 29, 1943 edition of The Saturday Evening Post, Norman Rockwell's Rosie the Riveter gave visual form to this phenomenon and became an iconic image of American popular culture. Rockwell portrayed Rosie as a monumental figure clad in overalls and a work-shirt with the sleeves rolled up to reveal her powerful, muscular arms. Seated against the backdrop of a rippling American flag, she is shown pausing for lunch, with a riveting machine and a tin lunch box balanced on her substantial lap, her visor and goggles pushed back on her head and a ham sandwich clasped in her hand. Despite her massive bulk, sturdy work clothes and the smudges on her arms and cheeks, Rosie's painted fingernails, lipstick and the tidy arrangement of her bright red curls wittily convey her underlying femininity. Pausing between bites, she gazes into the distance with a detached air of supreme self-assurance, while casually crushing a tattered copy of Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf under her feet.
Rockwell found the model for Rosie in Mary Doyle (now Mary Keefe), a nineteen year old telephone operator in Arlington, Vermont. Mrs. Keefe recalls meeting Mary Rockwell, the artist's wife, when she came in to pay her telephone bill. Like many other residents of the small town, Mary eventually became acquainted with the artist and readily accepted when Rockwell called and asked her to pose. Mrs. Keefe remembers arriving at the studio, where Rockwell had assembled her costume, which originally included a white shirt and saddle shoes. She sat for several photographs (all of which were destroyed when Rockwell's studio burned to the ground during the summer of 1943), but had to return for a second session with the artist when he decided he wanted Rosie to be wearing a blue shirt and penny loafers. Mrs. Keefe saw the final composition for the first time during a trip to a newsstand in Bennington, Vermont, where she happened to see a poster advertising the May 29, 1943 edition of The Saturday Evening Post. She remembers being rather shocked by Rockwell's transformation of her slim figure into Rosie's overly muscular physique, but adds that the artist later called her to apologize for his exaggerated enlargement of her size.
(From .rosietheriveter.org)


Mary Keefe sat for Norman Rockwell for his war bond posters
She holds an example of one such poster
Photo by Tia Ann Chapman
The Hartford Courant via AP at 2009 USA TODAY


Let's Give Him Enough and On Time, 1942
U.S. Army poster
Oil on canvas
U.S. Army Center of Military History
From artchive.com


No Swimming, 1921
The Saturday Evening Post, June 4, 1921 (cover)
Oil on canvas
The Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge (Massachusetts)
From artchive.com


Rockwell made no secret of his lifetime preference for countrified realism . . . "Things happen in the country, but you don't see them. In the city you are constantly confronted by unpleasantness. I find it sordid and unsettling." His time spent in the country was a great influence on his idyllic approach to storytelling on canvas. From 1953 until his death in 1978, Norman lived at Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where there is a museum devoted to him.
Although Norman Rockwell was always at odds with contemporary notions of what an artist should be, he chose to paint life as he wanted to see it. His themes and unique style have passed the test of time making him the best known of all American artists. Norman's ability to "get the point across" in one picture, and his flair for painstaking detail made him a favorite of the advertising industry.
(From lucidcafe.com.)
During that half century long career his painting style changes only a little and his vision changes hardly at all—they are all easily recognized as Norman Rockwell and no one else. Any artist of any medium should spend at least a couple of hours with Rockwell for they will see a lot just by looking. No doubt it will be a bit dated in its subject matter and will become cloying because a full book of Rockwell gives an overdose of nonstop cuteness but it is filled with historical detail and careful observation of people and artistic technique. Rockwell seems to take a basic ideal idea and break it down into a dozen or so sub ideal ideas and then populate the basic idea with iconic examples of these sub ideas. He seems to work with Platonic ideal forms for each of his particular subjects and sub subjects and sub sub subjects. He lays out the bare bones model of the entire scene and then fleshes it out and clothes that ideal form in ideal surfaces. His apparent goal is to create a perfect representation of a moment in time of an idealized moment of a particular bit of American life. Everything is designed to be perfectly apt to that moment. Everyone is always paying careful attention to whatever they are doing even if it is sleeping. His subjects are like wild animals or people at a baseball game, always on the alert even when nothing is happening.
(From probaway.wordpress.com)


Saying Grace
CGFA at sunsite.dk


The famous scene above is the scruffy restaurant in the train station of Troy, N. Y. It is Thanksgiving 1951. The old lady with her head bowed was a neighbor of Artist Norman Rockwell's. Sadly, she died before the painting appeared on the Saturday Evening Post cover of Nov. 24, 1951.
(© 2009 Time Inc)
Rockwell thought of his illustrated magazine covers as "independent storytelling pictures." His favorite kind of work, cover illustration offered him the narrative freedom he so enjoyed. It also presented challenges for the artist, who sometimes struggled to devise interesting new subjects to paint. A cover must "please a vast number of people; it must not require an explanation or caption to be understood; it must have instantaneous impact," Rockwell noted. "People won't bother to puzzle over a cover's meaning." A gifted storyteller and a masterful painter, Rockwell made the towns in which he lived his stage settings and his neighbors his actors. His images celebrate the extraordinary in the commonplace, inspiring viewers to see things that they may not otherwise notice in the course of their busy lives. Universal and particular, his striking scenes of everyday life tell America's story with affectionate humor, dignity, and kindness.
(Copyright 2003, 2004 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc)



No comments: