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19 Dec 2016

Work of an Icon: Heather James' Great Little Show Explores Another Side of Norman Rockwell's Art

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Study for “Boy With Melting Ice Cream Cones” by Norman Rockwell. Study for “Boy With Melting Ice Cream Cones” by Norman Rockwell.

Heather James Fine Art is surprising and delighting gallery-goers with Norman Rockwell’s humorous depictions of American life, along with portraits and studies by the renowned artist that uncover another level of his perception and skill.

“In putting together this Norman Rockwell show, we wanted to highlight examples of his artwork that illustrated the artist's working process,” said the gallery’s Hayden Hunt. “This can be seen through paintings like ‘Boy on a Weathervane,’ which is a study for a magazine cover; through ‘Study for “Boy With Melting Ice Cream Cones”’ that was a preliminary figure study for a painting; and even through the early painting ‘Gramercy Park,’ which was painted before Rockwell developed his strong narrative style of painting.”

The show includes several beautiful examples of storytelling, while others works depict a character in a unique way. For instance, “Weighing In (The Jockey)” reveals exaggerated figures—a seeming giant weighs a tiny jockey.

“We included images like ‘Weighing In’ because it reveals the artist’s skills at telling stories through a single image,” Hunt said. “This particular piece has a connection to the larger theme of the show, illustrating the artist's working process, because the painting of ‘Head Studies of a Girl (Peggy Best Sketch Class)’ actually has an under-drawing of ‘Weighing In’ visible underneath the painting. It shows how Rockwell reused his canvases and was continually adapting his ideas, or even abandoning them altogether.”

The small show includes some pieces on loan to Heather James.

“We chose to include artwork on loan that highlights interesting aspects of Rockwell's artistic output, which you don't see as often in paintings displayed in museums,” Hunt said. “‘Portrait of George A. Musselman’ is not a characteristic Rockwell painting, since it was not used as a magazine cover or for illustration purposes. Instead, it was actually commissioned by one of Rockwell's collectors; he owned about five major paintings by the artist.”

The show includes works in several different mediums—from full-color offset prints to paintings in oil—at various price points.

“Rockwell is best-known for his oil paintings, but he also did sketches in pencil,” Hunt said. “While he was alive, the artist began printing and selling lithographs of his artwork to sell out of his home in Stockbridge, Mass. He was well-known and loved by people around the country for his magazine covers, and he wanted to create signed works in media that were accessible to almost anyone who wanted one.”

One of the finest in the show is “Study for ‘Boy With Melting Ice Cream Cones.’” Not only does the young boy have stunning looks; Rockwell unveils the boy’s depth of personality and strength of character through beautiful paint strokes and color. It is a gem of a painting.

“I really love ‘Study for “Boy With Melting Ice Cream Cones,’” Hunt said. “He painted it in 1940. The model had done other jobs with various illustrators, but Rockwell used a different model to finish (the resulting work), because this model is too handsome. He chose a characteristic Rockwell look, with upturned nose, not this model, who has a Rat Pack look.”

This uncommon study of a very charismatic boy makes one wonder if perhaps there is even more to the story of the model change for the Saturday Evening Post cover.

A favorite artist of Americans everywhere, Rockwell had the gift of being able to tell through art.

“The paintings in the show and his other works show an entire narrative story from a single Rockwell image,” Hunt said. “He carefully planned everything out and used political overtures a lot. His Saturday Evening Post covers were complex.”

Norman Rockwell is on display through Monday, Jan. 30, at Heather James Fine Art, 45188 Portola Ave., in Palm Desert. The gallery is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday. For more information, call 760-346-8926, or visit www.heatherjames.com

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