I haven’t any formal training. No academy, college or diploma (Mayor of Simpleton/Oranges and Lemons/XTC). But that doesn’t mean I’m entirely self taught. I’ve had some great teachers over the years; Ben Cellini, Johnny Bernini, Art Gilbert, and many more. One of my favorite professors was a scrawny, pipe smoking guy from Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
Norman Percevel Rockwell was born in New York City in1894. He entered the Chase Art School at fourteen. From there he went to the National Academy of Design and finally to the Art Students League. At eighteen, he produced his first book illustration for Tell Me Why: Stories about Mother Nature. At nineteen, he was editor for Boy’s Life magazine. His first published Saturday Evening Post cover, Mother’s Day Off, was published in 1916 when he was twenty-one years old. Forty-seven years later, Norm had produced 321 cover paintings for the magazine. From Post he went to Life for ten years where his paintings reflected his personal views on civil rights, space exploration and poverty. Possibly, his Four Freedoms are his best known work, all painted within seven months. The scrawny native New Yorker became scrawnier, shedding fifteen pounds during the creation of those paintings.
From Norm I learned a good deal about composition, character creation and story telling. He was a very patient teacher and was available to me at all hours, day or night, within the pages of the handful of books I own. One of the most important things I learned from him was gesture. That subtle unspoken language of the raised eyebrow, the lift of the chin, the tilt of the head.
I was doing a set of busts for DCD. Among the group was Bizarro. I hadn’t sculpted him before and so dug into the reference to see if there was something in this character I could pull from. It was the gesture of his right hand that gave it to me. A closed fist, all fingers locked down, with the thumb pointing to his chest, spoke of aggression, determination and willfulness. But, with the little finger raised, the gesture became more playful and childlike. From the era of this Bizarro, he’s just a big dopey kid.
I’d been planning the Christmas Carol Collection for months. I reread the book, (a book I’ve read each year since I was fifteen), and then spent a lot of time with Professor Rockwell. All the sculpts owe a good deal to his tutelage. We collaborated on character, pose and body language. Tiny Tim, being the last in the line for hand-me-downs would be extraordinarily lucky to have anything in his wardrobe that matched. This is reflected in his different colored mittens, an over large muffler and a jacket just a tad too small.
Everything about Scrooge is pulled in tight. “A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner!” And so as he’s portrayed. The Ghost is welcoming.
My good friend, master sculptor and fellow Rockwell student, Tony Cipriano, saw the rough clay of Marley and suggested I change the potion of his left hand. In my original version, it played in concert with his right, accusing hand. By opening the left hand, palm up, the gesture becomes pleading and represents the duality of Marley’s mission.
Much of my work reflects Norm’s influence. He’s helped me see the human condition and the communication of it through gesture. Before I start a piece, I do what Norm did, I act it out. As best I can, I become that character, with as little self awareness as I can muster, to see if in the action there’s a hidden “tell”. In doing the DC Dynamics Supergirl statue, I went outside, stretched out my arms and “flew”. I flew around and around the yard. It’s a good thing we live far from our nearest neighbors. Although I don’t think you can be committed for pretending to fly around your own yard. It is nice not to have to worry about it.
What I learned from looking like an idiot was the likelihood that a girl newly vested with the power of flight would soar into the clouds, in grand pirouettes, eyes closed.