Rockwell’s Before and After (1958)
Norman Rockwell is one of those artists whose work, designed for the masses as illustration, is also art composed for the few. Traditionally he has not been considered a true artist, just an upbeat illustrator liked by the masses. Recently, his art has been reassessed by social critics even if the establishment still resists him. The Metropolitan Museum has four Rockwells in their collection but you won't find any on display. Yet, significantly, both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg collect Rockwell paintings and I am sure they see more in his art than the critics. Successful Hollywood films, as I have noted before, are often hidden allegories on the creative process including many of Spielberg's blockbusters. The link, then, between the two directors and the all-American artist is not just that they are all great story-tellers but poets too.
Take a moment to see if you can tell how this image of Casey, a defeated politician, is really a contemplation on how every painter paints himself..... It's worth considering for a few minutes because if you see it without my help you'll be pleased.
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Casey the candidate is Rockwell's alter ego sitting in front of a "drawing" of himself that he has just finished. The struggle to create such a large self-portrait, a common theme in art, has exhausted him.
Casey's pencil lies on the floor; a notepad with his name nearby. That refers to the cartellini in Italian Renaissance paintings which were signatures on small bits of paper often displayed near the lower edge. The one in a portrait of a young man by Antonello da Messina (right) states: "Antonello painted me." The yellow pad, in turn, implies: "Casey painted me."
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To one side where artists used to insert self-portraits, a man glances at the politician (top). As another alter ego, facing the "canvas", he uses his unseen arm to "paint" the departing spectators while checking his principal figure. In a photograph (bottom) Rockwell holds a mirror for the actual model, perhaps thinking that if the model's face was reflected, it would look - if the photo were a painting - as if the man with the cigar had painted his own self-portrait. It can be read as a photographic inversion of the finished painting. Smoking, incidentally, and imagination are closely linked. [See Theme].
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On the far side detritus litters the space around Casey (left). He is seated because chairs often imply a painter at work, the artist's "throne", while real studios are often messy. Three poles resemble the uprights of a traditional easel (right) or the wooden strips of a canvas known as stretchers. Meanwhile posters, like painted canvasses in a studio, are stacked against the wall. We now know that Rockwell, a modest man who only called himself an illustrator, was an artist too, a poet who like so many before never divulged his meaning.
More Works by Rockwell
Original Publication Date on EPPH: 04 Dec 2013. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.