A visit to the Tampa Museum of Art to check out some Rockwell.
Norman Rockell, when I used to think of him, I would think of idealized suburban culture. I would think of happy families and freckle faced kids,Christmas gatherings and baseball games. The term “All-American” would come to mind. I’ve always loved his style, but never felt fully connected to the subject matter. Well, that’s simply because I hadn’t seen enough of his work.
As a portrait artist, Rockwell is outstanding. His use of color and layering in his skin tones give the “feel” of real skin. He is a master visual storyteller with the majority of stories being told by the life-like expressions on his subjects’ faces.
First off, I was surprised by the looseness of his work. Interestingly, I had a conversation with my step-father a few weeks prior. We were discussing his own artistic style. Somewhere in that conversation, he made a comment about Rockwell being much more loose. I chuckled and may have said “You’re crazy”. Well, looks like I’m the crazy one.
What I learned about Rockwell and what has made me appreciate his work more than ever was that he was a bit of a rebel. As an artist, I have been put in a position of trying to balance staying true to myself, while not alienating a client base. Being an illustrator, Rockwell was in the same boat, but on a much grander scale. He had to cater to publishers and attract the majority while maintaining his integrity and beliefs. Thinking about his work as illustration rather than just art, the idealized subject matter was unavoidable. Looking at works like Uneasy Christmas in the Birthplace of Christ and The Problem We All Live With, I saw how as a traditionalist and illustrator, he teetered the line of being controversial and appealing to the masses.
The museum offered a large room filled with magazine covers illustrated by the artist. Seeing that quantity of work of such quality was remarkable. I’ve lived in an age where most magazine covers are photographs. To stand back and see years worth of covers that look like photos, then to remember that one man hand-painted each of them was truly awe inspiring. All I could think was, “No magazine these days would be willing to pay someone enough to do this”.
Then there were his notes and reference photos. Getting to see the lifecycle of a piece is such a treat for me. This is the closest one can ever get to being inside someone’s brain.
All in all, World Museum Day 2015 was inspiring. Can’t wait to see what next year has in store.