“I PAINT LIFE AS I WOULD LIKE IT TO BE.”
anecdotes but they were always transformed by Rockwell’s own particular fantasy of a gentler, more lighthearted America. They grew out of a vision of boyhood that survives in some men for their whole lives, but they were also a reaction to some bitter urban experiences of the artist’s youth. He had seen the sordid and wanted noth- ing of it. His vision was molded by a poignant yearning for an ideal middle-class life that included a comfortable, safe place for genera- tions to come. Each of Rockwell’s canvases is a narrative, a mini-movie. He conceived of the idea; won com- mercial approval for it; and cast it with models from his home, neighborhood, or town. He often designed and constructed his sets and dressed his models in costumes that he kept in his studio. This approach seldom varied during the course of his long career—from his first work prior to World War I to his last illustrations in the early 1970s. Most of his paintings have a hos- pitable relationship to the viewer. One can see his most effective visual device, the foreground invitation, as early as 1916 in a painting called The Letter. It portrays a man with three days’ growth of beard, sitting with his feet on a check- er-clothed table near a sink full of unwashed dishes. The man is wearing a pink apron. But it is the letter he is holding in the foreground of the picture that draws us in and decodes the cluttered scene. It is signed “Nora” and clearly informs the viewer that the whole setup is the outcome of a missing wife. Rockwell’s work remains far from the gritty realism of any Ashcan School of American art. He told stories in his pictures that he wanted to tell and that would be appreciated by the mainstream middle-class audience who bought The Satur- day Evening Post, which published hundreds of covers by Rockwell over a period of forty-eight years. He had a remarkable eye for detail, was rigorous in his authenticity in rendering people and things, and possessed the academic training and technical skills of a fine artist.
He told anecdotes that happened, or could have happened, in the family circle and in small towns, and they were stories that many people wanted to hear. Because he left out the negative, his work was a mainstay to the public during times of national crisis. In the twenties, when industry and technology were changing the workplace and home and the jazz age was changing American morals, Rock- well’s work reminded people of simpler times. During the Depression, when economic pres- sures darkened every community, Rockwell’s familiar scenes of cozy security heartened millions of magazine readers who had lost their jobs. And during the war, his series of
AIRPLANE TRIP Oil on canvas, first printed on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post , June 4, 1938. Here Rockwell captures the excitement and anxiety of a first airplane trip in the early days of commercial flight. With a map on her lap, the passenger sits with her eyes shut, hands clasped in prayer.
TRIPLE SELF-PORTRAIT Oil on canvas, first printed on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post , February 13, 1960. Rockwell is the postmodernist here, with a triple self-portrait cover. By the 1960s, Rockwell’s name was synonymous with the Post , and the artist himself had become as much of an American icon as those he depicted in his paintings.
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