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Awwww. Sorry, Norman

We went to London Saturday. No, no…we didn’t meet up with the Socialist Rent-a-mob, we went to a Norman Rockwell exhibit at the excellent Dulwich Gallery. First time Rockwell has been shown over here.

The critics here (who probably thought Tracy Emin’s Bed was geeenius) greeted the show with predictable sniffy put-downery. For them art, like medicine, doesn’t work unless there’s something bitterly unpleasant about it.

And the public? It was the Dulwich’s most popular show ever. They sold out of show catalogs two weeks before the end.

I’d never seen a Rockwell original. I was prepared to be disappointed. Rockwell relied heavily on carefully posed photographs and I hate illustration that leans too hard on photo reference — because I had to do a huge amount of that in my career (hey, I worked for an engineering company. Accuracy outweighed my artistic pretensions every…single…time).

It has a certain look. Tracing a photo and making the result look artistic is a totally different mental process than staring at something then turning away and trying to rebuild it on paper. The latter is harder work and almost always results in something more interesting to look at.

Anyhow, I was wrong. Totally, totally wrong. Norman Rockwell was a superb painter. His canvases — particularly the early ones — had a Dutch masters quality, with thick, creamy impasto and beautiful finish. Most were big — bigger than I expected — but he worked in many sizes. And there were plenty of loose, painterly studies. And some beautiful pencil drawings!

How he did thousands of paintings (over 4,000 — 323 Post covers alone) in that quality at that size with that much preliminary work…honestly, I do not know. As a matter of personal taste, I could wish he dialed down the schmaltz just a pinch, but as a matter of painterly chops, dude was a genius.

Turns out, the most reproduced artist EVER really doesn’t reproduce all that well.

March 28, 2011 — 10:53 pm
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