Rockwell’s methods

Normal Rockwell painted over 300 covers for the Saturday Evening Post. I didn’t think  I would be interested in Normal Rockwell’s paintings (on display in Dulwich Picture Gallery), but I was.

The pictures often show cute and sentimental  caricatures. There are puppies, children, clowns, grandfathers, turned up toes of shoes, santas; these magazine covers are like greeting cards. They are controlled, realist in some ways, detailed, technically very well painted and the figures are very well observed.

Rockwell’s ability is to tell a whole story in one picture. He has the actor’s skill of working with poses and expressions and screenwriter’s skill of working with actions – people doing things – conveying all that is happening visually, rather than in words. On the magazine covers, the people are in action, playing, sitting, standing, playing music, mixing medicine, head scratching,  Their gestures and faces show us their emotions. Frowning, pointing, crying, eating, pouting, there are some raised eyebrows.  Sometimes we can tell what has just happened (the beginning) and sometimes what is about to happen (the end).

There are words painted on the canvas (most works are oil on canvas), like pop art. Unlike pop art the words are there for a functional reason – it may be the name of the magazine. Pop art inverted, in a way. Sometimes the backgrounds are plain, painted white in oil. He used cameras to compose some of his paintings, which you can see from some of the unusual angles such as the over head shot of the bridge game.

Rockwell went out and about looking for subjects. He looked around at ‘small town America’. He is said to have invented a way of looking at and thinking about America. He also found locations. For example, the armour room at a Massachucetts museum.


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