the contextual life

thoughts without borders

must-see :: norman rockwell

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the tattoo artist / norman rockwell / 1944

norman rockwell’s illustrations are known by almost every modern american born before 1985. his style, sentimental to the core, along with talent, are what carries his work through the day.

while rockwell’s paintings most certainly have their own allure, what interested me about the exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, something i’d never known, were the photo shoots he’d arranged in order to have stills to reference—one of the building blocks to his hyperrealism.

rockwell would choose his models from friends, family, and neighbors; he’d once said, “I paint human-looking humans and professional models just don’t qualify.” he selected his participants not just on appearance but also their ability to perform and smile on cue. although the camera’s shutter was ultimately snapped by one of his hired photographers, gene pelham from 1939 to 1953 when rockwell was based in vermont; then bill scovill from 1953 to 1963 when rockwell first moved to massachusetts, and finally, the longest serving assistant, louie lamone from 1953 to 1977, also based in massachusetts, it was rockwell who set the scene, showing the models sketches of the poses and then acted them out to make sure they had it right, and setting the camera angle as well. even with all his elaborate efforts to create the photos, rockwell felt as if he were cheating and often felt guilty.

authenticity was important to the artist and would travel, within the US and abroad, to get the right setting for his paintings. one advertising assignment mentioned at the exhibit that sounded interesting was his work for Pan American, the international airline. apparently the job didnt go so well for rockwell. here’s what he had to say in his autobiography:

“And then there’s advertising. and my most disappointing fiasco. A few years back Wally Elton, a vice-president at the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency, asked me if I would like to go around the world for Pan American Airways. I would visit all the major cities at which the Pan American clippers landed and make sketches. When I returned the sketches would be published as advertisements for Pan American.

“I [assumed] that he wanted me to sketch the people I saw and the strange sights, sort of get the flavor of the cities we passed through. And that’s what I did. In Paris, Barcelona, Rome, Istanbul, Beirut, Karachi, Calcutta, Benares, Rangoon, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Hawaii. People from bullfighters and priests, to snake charmers, monkey tamers, Arabs, and Geisha girls. Scenes from a fountain in Rome to a camel-elephant-water buffalo-bicycle-and-beggar-thronged street in Karachi.

But when I returned home and submitted my sketchbook it was rejected. Oh, I did a few ads. Nothing to justify the time and money which had been spent, though. Because the agency and Pan American did not want pictures of the strange lands and people. “Those would only frighten tourists,” they said; “we want pictures of smart-looking tourists sunning on smart beaches in front of smart hotels.” But that’s not the kind of picture I can do. So I did nothing.”

adapted from: my adventures as an illustrator: norman rockwell (an autobiography) / 1995

marriage counselor / norman rockwell / 1963

this exhibit is running until april 10th. jump on the 2,3 and head to the brooklyn museum stop.

[big moments] ::
1894 : born in new york city
1916 : first cover illustration for the saturday evening post
1963 : ends relations with the saturday evening post
1978 : dies, age 84, stockbridge, massachusetts

[sources] ::
rockwell exhibit page at the brooklyn museum

brooklyn museum


Written by Gabrielle

January 5, 2011 at 6:06 am

Posted in art

Tagged with , , ,

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