Smirks, glances, funky body movements, family matters and political discussions… subtle changes in facial expressions underlining tiny differences, ever changing, never the same, just like in a good movie…
The pose of the restaurant waiter reads: “ I am ready to serve”; an old, disillusioned lonely man with bunch of cigarette butts and a cat next to the happy, hopeful, young and beautiful soon-to-be married couple with a full life ahead of them; or smirks on faces of a young couple in the waiting room at a marriage counselor. You can just read it in their faces “I am right, you will see!” And of course, there is an art critic who got to put his nose everywhere including the cleavage of a young woman in a portrait… Serious and funny subjects, kids, animals, clumsy drunks and devoted government employees. Despite the subject matter these images are not grotesque. The author is observing his generation like a loving parent observes a naughty child with an adoring smile.
Recently we visited The McNay Art Museum to see the Norman Rockwell exhibition. This was Rob’s idea; I am not too much into commercial art, I prefer all types of artsy endeavors that the 20th century had to offer, although I am still working on accepting pop art as art… Realistic recognizable images with its golden age in the middle of nineteenth century nowadays read as archaic and boring to me. I love the French Impressionists and everything that happened in the world of art world after them. My absolute favorites are the modernist years of the beginning of 20th century. Art of illustrations never really caught my eye as anything worthy of special attention. Well! Let me tell you… this exhibit changed it all for me. Now, I have a lot of respect and admiration for the art of illustration and especially the work of Norma Rockwell.
The exhibit is filled with actual photographs used as study shots. I have never ever seen anything like this in an art museum. It was not a typical art exhibit but more of a fusion of three arts sharing the same space: the art of photography, the art of painting and the art of cinematography. And all of them seamlessly intertwined into the life and work of one artist. It turned out that Norman Rockwell did not draw freehand. It turned out that he was hiring professional models to pose for his pictures, staged, professionally lit, every movement and every expression thoroughly thought through ahead of time. He made photographs and traced their images onto paper and then assembled them into his paintings. At the first glimpse, it looks like he went through an awful lot of trouble just to come up with drawings after that.
When we remember our lives, what is it we remember? Yes, we remember those little moments that he so thoroughly thought through. These little moment make our lives into what it is. Is it realism? He is not using abstract images to make us feel then way we do? What kind of art technique is this? Is it a caricature? Is it abstractionism, expressionism? Critics and art historians call it photorealism. With All Do Respect I Disagree! If you look at the photos of the same scenes you still do not feel anything, you appreciate great quality photos and great facial and body expressions of his models, but that is about it. In my opinion Rockwell created a new movement in the world of the arts and I am going to call it life one shot at a time. Every moment, every episode warmly scopes the psyche of an entire generation.
He took images of real people and breathed magic into them. He brought them to life by extracting their character out of the frame of reality; he kicked them up a notch. People are recognizable in illustrations but they are a lot more readable than their real photographs. He makes them more expressive; he summarizes for us a caricature of their feelings. By looking at his works we know what his characters feel, what they say and how they relate to each other. As any other great art, it is tragic and funny at the same time. Movies of our lives consist of individual shots, individual moments that make it into what it is. Rockwell poeticized an entire generation one picture at a time. He was an absolute master of his own kind by creating, directing and lovingly imprinting on paper these shots that altogether created a one-of-a-kind movie: 20th Century America.