The other week I went to see the Norman Rockwell’s America at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in South London. I was stunned by his brilliance. Not only did he master sublime technical skill but also had amazing wit to portray the everyday life of American citizens.
Rockwell’s dedication and passion to his profession is obvious in each of the 323 Saturday Evening Post covers exhibited. The attention to detail, the facial expressions of his characters and his down-to-earth charm and humor are remarkable. They made me want to study each illustration until every depicted item had explained its purpose and role in the story.
The exhibited collection does not only provide us an overview to Rockwell’s career, it also gives us an insight to peoples lives throughout six decades – and not all subjects are light-hearted. Much of the work he undertook during his 10-year association with Look Magazine illustrates and humanizes some of the deepest concerns and interests of the 20th century in America, including civil rights, the war on poverty, and the exploration of space.
Rockwell’s illustrations also made me view the medium in a new way, since they are painted. They stand apart from much of today’s hand-drawn immediate style which often carries a decorative purpose. Also, like the fashion illustration exhibition at the Design Museum, it reminded me that there was a very long period of time when visual communication was dependent on illustration and it carried the role photography has today.
Norman Rockwell’s America left me with a similar feeling to Studio Ghibli movies: a naive sensation that the world is a fascinating place which can make you giggle and hold your hand if you just know where and how to look at it.