Saturday, December 7, 2013

by Deborah Solomon

He never really considered himself as an artist. An illustrator was his line of work. The details of his paintings were meticulous.
For almost half a century (from 1916 to 1963), Norman Rockwell did 323 covers for The Saturday Evening Post (it was published on Thursday). So many people would sit at their kitchen tables devouring the latest issue. Rockwell's art depicted ordinary Americans doing everyday things and had massive appeal. They each told a story. The majority of his figures, though, were males. He wasn't really comfortable around women even though he had three wives. All of Rockwell's friends were men and he would go fishing, trek mountainsides, and go on vacations with them leaving his better halves at home.
Whoever met him thought that he was absolutely charming, personable and down-to-earth. But behind his folksy, pipe-smoking, bow tie-wearing facade, was a darker side. Rockwell always felt inadequate, lonely, and anxious. His relationships with his parents, wives, and three sons were horrible. He pretty much ignored his children. Rockwell was obsessive about cleanliness and would sweep his studio several times a day. He never varied his meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. When he was fifty-nine, he went into treatment for depression with the renowned psychoanalyst Erik Erikson (that was not his real name). Rockwell would be treated by many psychiatrists over the years but nothing really changed for him.
Rockwell's art, though, would become more and more popular even as many art critics derided it. Today the prices for his pictures sell in the millions. Rockwell would be dumfounded but most likely wouldn't care as he wasn't interested so much in the financial aspects. He just wanted people to see themselves in his illustrations and feel good.
Deborah Solomon has written a terrific biography on Norman Rockwell. The prose flows effortlessly and considering that Rockwell was attempting to tell a story with his illustrations, Solomon is a great storyteller, herself. The details are quite fascinating and you never get bored. At four hundred forty-one pages, the book is pretty hefty, yet you never feel encumbered. Several color plates of some of his most famous paintings lie within, along with charcoal drawings, and black-and-white photos. Solomon is an art critic and analyzes Rockwell's works. She is no slouch when it comes to writing because she has written two prior books on other artists: Jackson Pollack and Joseph Cornell.
American Mirror is a great read.
Very highly recommended.