I had to scratch my head as I read these words: "These neutral-toned protagonists riff on Rockwell's normalcy—everyday folks who've somehow pierced the veil and grapple with a decidedly non-normal, post-gravitational experience." Seems too much effort went into making meaning out of nonsense there.
That aside, I think Rockwell gets short shrift by many, including The Independent Weekly's reviewer, and probably always will. I've always considered Rockwell to be the first true illustrator who was able to transcend the label, or elevate the vocation, by creating images so pregnant with backstory that they rival the great masterpieces of Western iconography.
His potraiture doesn't merely reveal a faithful snap-shot of human emotion, a difficult enough aim, but unveils a robust and complex personal history -- and does so without making the viewer feel like a voyeur or accidental witness to a private moment. He takes the personal and makes it public, but does so without eroding the dignity of his subjects. On the contrary, his subjects are imbued with dignity.
I also think, and said as much to my 10-year-old son as we left the exhibit, that Rockwell was a master at representing the richness of American ethnicity. He captured the Irish-American or the Italian-American or the African-American as truthfully as any artist living or dead.
Finally, some of his images (for example, the little African-American girl beying escorted to school by the U.S. deputy marshalls in "The Problem We All Live With") are so powerfully iconic that they seem to have become what we remember of the historic event -- displacing images from print and electronic media in our mind's eye.
No other American painter I can think of comes close to making this kind of lasting impression on our psyche, save for Andrew Wyeth and Edward Hopper.
Indy Week • 302 E. Pettigrew St., Suite 300, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
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