Category Archives: By Morris Shapiro

Wildlife Master Andrew Bone Paints a “Life-Size” African Elephant

Andrew Bone, Park West Gallery

Andrew Bone continues to astonish. The African conservationist, painter and adventurer has achieved yet another benchmark in his career. He recently painted a “life-size” (54″ x 95″) African elephant on canvas. The painting, which he titled African Majesty creates an unmatched experience while standing before it.

(Click image above to view in detail)

“One truly has the feeling of encountering this majestic animal in the flesh,” commented Park West Gallery Director, Morris Shapiro who assisted the collectors of the painting in July 2010 with their acquisition.

Andrew Bone, Park West Gallery

Artist and conservationist, Andrew Bone (far right) at Park West Gallery with the collectors of his life-size painting of an African Elephant, “African Majesty.”

“Andrew was actually charged by this bull in the wild, and he captured the energy of that dramatic moment so powerfully,” said Shapiro. “When I first encountered it, I was awed by the sheer size of the animal and as I moved before it, his liquid eyes appeared to follow me from side to side. I don’t know if an artist has ever painted a life-size elephant head before, but I doubt it. A special canvas had to be ordered for the painting and Andrew had some remarkable physical challenges in creating the work.”

The artist commented about his work:

“The creation of ‘African Majesty’ was challenging on numerous levels. The size was larger than ever attempted before, the proportions of the animal had to be perfect, and the piece needed character.

I had to make fundamental changes to my studio. Everything went on wheels to get from one end of the painting to another, the brushes got bigger and the canvas had to be hung on a bar in order to move it off the easel when I was not working on it. I mixed enough pigment to last for the 8 months it would take me to complete the piece and began the first rudimentary brush strokes.

Any artist will testify that the most satisfying part of creating a piece is seeing the art finally framed and hung. This was more so in the case of ‘African Majesty.’ The painting was enormous, bold and real – becoming of the most spectacular animal in the world.

In the fall of 2010 Bone will be embarking on one of the most arduous adventures of his life. He will be traversing the entire length of the Zambezi River (1,500 miles) by canoe. The journey, which will originate at the river source in the Congo and end at the Indian Ocean, will take months, but will allow Andrew an unprecedented access to subjects for his paintings. Bone will also be accompanied by a film crew who will capture the adventure for an upcoming National Geographic documentary.

For more information on Andrew Bone’s remarkable life and artwork, visit his website at http://andrewbone.com

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Park West Gallery Artist Interviews: Leslie Lew Part 3

In Part 1 of Park West Gallery Director Morris Shapiro’s interview with renowned artist Leslie Lew, the artist discussed her artwork and thriving career. In Part 2 Lew discussed her background. Following is Part 3 in which she discusses the early years of her artistic career beginning with her time in Chicago where she attended the Art Institute of Chicago…

Morris Shapiro: When you were in Chicago, you became affiliated with a wonderful movement called the “Hairy Who” movement. It’s not a very well-known movement, but I think it was very influential because a lot of the imagery seemed to emerge from culture…from comic books and pulp fiction. You studied the important artists of that period, and you knew some of the important artists from that period.

Leslie Lew: Ray Yoshida was my advisor for the whole time, and Ray was one of the big names in the Hairy Who. He just passed away about six months ago.

MS: And then you moved to New York and were part of the famous East Village movement.

Sensory Evolution Opening. LL: Yes. My being influenced by the Hairy Who in Chicago was a part of that. The Hairy Who was around about the same time as the Pop Art movement…they were just a different offshoot; a little bit wilder, actually. They really would have fit right in with the East Village artists because they were really funky. I was so influenced by Roger Brown and Jim Nutt and the others, that when I went from Chicago to New York, my work fit in perfectly with the East Village movement. It was really cool.

It’s kind of an interesting story, too, the way I got to New York. I was still in graduate school at the Art Institute of Chicago, and I decided I wanted to go to New York. There were a couple of different programs. I applied to the Whitney, but that year they didn’t accept any painters…they decided that year to just accept video artists. But, it turned out there was an offshoot art program called “Semester in New York City” that was funded by the New York Arts Council and affiliated with the Whitney. So, they invited the artists that had applied to the painting program that year. It turned out that I got the rejection letter from the Whitney saying they were doing only video, and the next day I got the letter inviting me to the “Semester in New York” program. So I went. They had the greatest studios…they had an old telephone factory right on the West Side highway and the entire building was studios. And they had major artists come every Friday and critique our work. It turned out to be a great experience.

Leslie Lew and son 1988.MS: And also at this time you were a single mother with a young child?

LL: I wasn’t a mother yet. When I first got to New York and getting into East Village movement and showing, and I met another painter named Jeffery Lew and we got married. He was a popular artist in the 70s and very good friends with Rob Rauschenberg. For a few years it was really fun, but it became difficult when I started getting some notoriety with the East Village, because his day had kind of passed. I was trying to be cool about it, but it was really hard. People would come up to him and say “how does it feel to be Mr. Leslie Lew?” By that time I had given birth to my son, and he just couldn’t handle it, so I became a single mom on my own.

MS: A single mom on your own, as an artist, raising a baby. That has got to be a pretty intense road. I think it probably has a lot to do with the strength that you have now as an artist and some of your imagery. A lot of the very “heroic” nature of some of your imagery probably comes from that period.

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Stay tuned to the Park West Gallery blog for Part 4 of this fascinating interview with Leslie Lew, and review Part 1 and Part 2 here!

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Park West Gallery Artist Interviews: Leslie Lew Part 2

In Part 1 of Park West Gallery Director Morris Shapiro’s interview with renowned artist Leslie Lew, the artist discussed her artwork and thriving career. Following is Part 2 of this fascinating interview in which she discusses her history as an artist…

Morris Shapiro: I know you have a really amazing resume and you have shown in some of the finest galleries in New York. And, you’ve shown next to artists like Andy Warhol, Lichtenstein, and Keith Haring.

Leslie Lew: I knew Andy and I knew Keith.

MS: And you’ve shown side-by-side with them, as well as in some of the most prestigious galleries in New York and elsewhere. The choice to come to Park West is an interesting because I think it says something about your philosophy of art.

LL: As an art student early on, I would visit museums and high-end galleries, but I always had a little bit of a problem with the way they present their art, or even the approach that they take. Often they are very elitist; it’s almost like you are intimidated when you go in a place… you can’t touch anything. And I’ve always felt that art was supposed to be something that would reach everybody, not just a few people.

I think that’s why I am really, really thrilled with Park West. Your approach is to educate, to deliver, to present and have fun with the art, and to include, not exclude, people. I’m noticing as I go through these events and exhibitions with Park West that it’s a different approach, and it’s exactly what I want to do with my work.

My long term plan is to try to reach as many people as I possibly can. And I think a great way to do this is working with Park West. Yeah, my pieces get into museums…at the Guggenheim or some other high-end gallery, and that’s great. But the people that I’m meeting with Park West are from all over the place, all over the world basically.

MS: And with different levels of artistic sophistication.

LL: Exactly. And you know what, art isn’t just for the few. Take Rembrandt…he wanted to make art approachable. They didn’t have TV…art was part of their communication. And I feel that is really important.

MS: Well I think you are a perfect fit for that because you have such a wonderful energy yourself and so much enthusiasm about your work. That’s such a great combination…people just adore you and your work. So many artists have difficulty in really communicating about their work and sharing their personal side because it is just the way they are, but you have such a wonderful, outgoing personality and people are just delighted to meet you.

Let’s talk a little bit about your past, your background. I know that you come from a family of girls. You have four sisters?

LL: Yes, I am the oldest…I have three younger sisters.

MS: And your father was a pretty famous advertising executive, and his name was Leslie also.

LL: That’s right…I’m Leslie Jr., as I always tell everybody. My parents are a little unconventional…they were kind of like old beatniks; they had a spirit about both of them. My mother used to wear a chignon, big earrings, and funky shoes. I used to be embarrassed when I was a kid…I wanted her to look more like the Dick, Jane and Sally mom, you know with the flip haircut, but she didn’t. She had leotards, she was very dramatic. I probably got a little of that from my mom.

And my dad, of course, was an artist in his own right. But when he got married he needed to take the route of supporting his family; that is why he went into advertising. He drove to New York and got a job at J. Walter Thompson. He’s responsible for all of the coolest ads that we grew up with as Baby Boomers.

MS: Can you tell us some of them?

LL: Alka-Seltzer commercials…the Marlboro Man.

“Oh I can’t believe I ate the whole thing,” “marshmallow meatball,” you know, that kind of thing. There was one with a newlywed who was cooking for her husband and she was a really bad cook… Dad did that one.

And the Marlboro Man. Dad went down to Kentucky. You know that guy just died recently from smoking. He was a really young guy though; he was only about eighteen at the time, even though he looked a lot older.

MS: And some of the famous breakfast cereals?

LL: Oh yeah. When dad passed away a couple of years ago, I decided to do a dedication to him. I recreated one of the Sugar Smacks boxes that he invented. He did the Smackin’ Brothers, which would be so totally inappropriate today…so “politically incorrect.” But what I did was paint a really big—about 90 by 60 inch—sculpted oil, based on Dad’s ad, and I had an exhibition called “Snap, Crackle, and POP” and I did a big POP. He has influenced me a lot.

In the old day with the ad layouts, they used those great Pantone markers. He had thousands of colors…and it was almost like a watercolor process. He had his own little studio in our house and I used to sit underneath his drawing table. He was really persnickety about his markers, and if they were the least bit worn or dry, he would give them to me. So I would sit there and actually copy my dad’s ads. I still have some of them.

MS:  So you were also drawing at a really early age?

LL: Oh yeah, absolutely.

MS: So then your father kind of packed it in; he kind of just turned his back on the advertising world and took your family to Oregon right? And you guys were living kind of as “bohemians” in Oregon?

LL: Yeah. What happened was that my parents got divorced, but we all ended up following my dad. My dad didn’t want to get divorced, but my mother, I guess she just couldn’t handle it. It was a time in the 50’s where she wanted to be more creative. She needed to “do her own thing.” She didn’t want to be a housewife. Ultimately, she ended up working as a writer for the Chicago Tribune and then later for the Oregonian. Even thought they got divorced, they remained friends. Dad went to Oregon, and I went to Oregon with him. Then my sisters followed. Then, my dad invited my mom to come, so everyone ended up in Portland.

MS: And this is about the time when you decided to become an artist, right? You moved to Chicago and went to The Chicago Institute, the School of Art Institute, which everyone knows is one of the greatest art schools in the world. Some of the work that you do today still has images that originated from your Chicago Institute days, right?

LL: Yes, the first piece that ever was in a museum is one of the etchings that I released through Park West. I had never sent them out…they’ve always been just with me in my studio. But, I love that you guys have great, beautiful etchings like Rembrandt, Goya, and I thought, you know what, I’m going to release these…this is the right place for them now.

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Stay tuned to the Park West Gallery blog for Part 3 of this absorbing interview with Leslie Lew, and review Part 1 here!

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Yaacov Agam and the Mystical Number “9”

Yaacov Agam, Park West Gallery“Infinite Reach” (1985), serigraph in color on reflective mylar, by YAACOV AGAM

By Morris Shapiro,
Director of Park West Gallery

I am often asked about the significance of the number “9″ in Yaacov Agam’s art.

Yaacov Agam, as the son of an Orthodox Rabbi, possesses a deep interest in Hebrew mysticism. The study of the most mystical aspect of Hebrew beliefs is called “Kabbala.” Kabbala is millennia old and extremely esoteric, secretive and illusive to grasp. Students of Kabbala spend their entire lifetimes attempting to penetrate the hidden meanings and interpretations of the subject.

In the language of Hebrew (one of the world’s most ancient still in use) every letter of the alphabet has a hidden meaning found in each letter, vowel and accent. Each letter in Hebrew also represents a number. Hebrew, unlike many other languages, never developed separate numerical symbols. The ancient Hebrews also believed that God’s “language” could be perceived in mathematics. When contemplating the perfection of mathematics, formulae, its infiniteness (microcosm/macrocosm) and man’s need for mathematics to create our physical existence, it is easy to see a “metaphysical” aspect to numbers as well. This is the basis for the pursuit and penetration into the mysticism of numbers and mathematics in Kabbala.

The Hebrew word for “life” is “chai.” The word chai is composed of two letters (two numbers) which add up to the number “18.” So in “life” we find a factor of “9.” Now “9” is also a “magical” number. Perhaps you’ve noticed that for each factor of 9: 18, 27, 36, 45, 54, 63, 72, 81, 90… when the numbers are added together equal 9 (18…1 + 8 = 9, etc.). This continues: 108, 117, 126, 135, 144, etc.

As Agam considers his works of art to be “visual prayers” or creations which each reflect upon the metaphysical, he chooses to incorporate factors of 9 into each work to “resonate” this purpose. Therefore, in an Agam “prismograph” for example, there are 9 prisms used. The edition size (180) is a factor of 9. The number of colors used in the print is divisible by 9 (I don’t know how many there are, but trust me). If you measure the distance between the prisms, the length, width and depth of the prisms, the sizes of each rectangular space used, the distance from the edge of the frame (white acrylic) to the image, the thickness of the frame, etc. these dimensions will all be divisible by 9 in centimeters. Agam incorporates his Kabbalistic beliefs directly into the physicality (form) of the art he creates.

This is only a single aspect of the layers of meaning in Agams’s work. In particular, I find the things he says about his own work most illuminating. Remember, he created his concept, his “credo,” more than 60 years ago and it has never changed. It has continued to sustain his limitless creativity and to be a template for the creation of his art which has filled the world. There is not (nor has there ever been) anyone like him as an artist in the world history. This is one of many reasons why I personally believe he can arguably be considered the most important artist alive in our time. We are indeed honored to have his art and his enduring relationship to Park West Gallery with us each day.

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A Gavel Falls…is the Pendulum of Art History Swinging Back?

By Morris Shapiro,
Park West Gallery Director

The art and financial worlds are all abuzz about the vigorous buying surge witnessed on the evening of February 3, 2010 at Sotheby’s London, when a bronze sculpture by Swiss modern master Alberto Giacometti fetched the highest price in art auction history. Phillip Hook, the London based Sotheby’s specialist in Impressionist art afterward commented about the supply and demand dynamics involved, “Throughout 2009, we could see plenty of demand for works but not enough supply. This sale confirmed there is more supply and, if anything, demand is even greater.”

After the most significant world-wide economic downturn in more than 70 years, it’s not hard to understand the confusion, consternation and in some cases anger displayed by people wondering how a piece of metal could be worth 65 million pounds (104.3 million dollars). Add to this newest “shocking” price phenomenon the unprecedented prices fetched at the Sotheby’s London auction in September 2008, of the works of British artist Damien Hirst. This sale which contained dead animals encased in formaldehyde filled boxes, cigarette butts arranged on medicine cabinets, dead flies shellacked onto canvasses, and other prime examples of Hirst’s aesthetic ephemera, in total fetched an astonishing $200,700,000, the highest price in history at auction for a single artist (eclipsing even Picasso’s record of 1993).

The same Phillip Hook in his 2009 book, The Ultimate Trophy: How Impressionist Painting Conquered the World (Prestel) perfectly captured another aspect of the public’s mystification of art’s perceived value. “We live in an era, which more than ever before, equates novelty with quality,” he stated. I fear (and fervently hope) that this comment by Mr. Hook, may be no longer the case and that due to the confluence of economic, sociopolitical, and even spiritual realities our shrunken world is experiencing today the big pendulum of art history as evidenced by the Giacometti sculpture may finally be swinging back.

The financial realities everyone the world over is experiencing today have shifted the paradigm. The age of conspicuous consumerism if not over, is today like a cubist painting, offering multiple and fragmented views of reality. To me, it’s no wonder that a work of art can emerge as a symbol of our times, a touchstone for something that still reveals the glory and hope of human creativity. Like a Haiku wherein great wisdom may be discerned in myriad ways by those who read it, the dramatic demonstration of the value of a work of art amidst times of uncertainty and even iconoclastic worldwide financial transformation still bodes well for us all.

Since the days when men first made markings on stone, stepped back and contemplated the mysteries of human consciousness found in the residue of those markings, art has been the beacon, the spearhead of human achievement. Why not now to once again affirm its enduring meaning in our lives and watch the pendulum move back again toward those same aspirations of form and content that created the narrative of art for 60,000 years? Seems like a perfectly fitting and beautiful irony to me.

The Ancient Greeks believed that sculpture was the purest and highest art form. I suspect they (and Giacometti) knew something we didn’t, until now.

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In Memoriam: Roy E. Disney (1930-2009)

“Destino”, a short film by Salvador Dali and Walt Disney, lay unfinished for
nearly 60 years until it was completed by Disney’s nephew Roy. [Courtesy: AFP]

In Memoriam: Roy E. Disney (1930-2009)
Written by Morris Shapiro, Park West Gallery Director

Roy Edward Disney, nephew of Walt Disney, died Wednesday at the age of 79.

I had the pleasure of meeting Roy E. Disney on New Year’s Eve of 2006. Marc Scaglione, the President of Park West Gallery, and I visited his office in Los Angeles and conducted a videotaped interview with him about one of his passions, the Disney-Dali film collaboration, Destino

We spent about four hours with him and had enough time to enjoy his company, observe his environment and talk about some of the things that don’t appear in the 18-minute edited video. We asked him about being a child “hanging out” in the Disney milieu, about some of the people he met there over the years, about his uncle Walt, his father Roy O. Disney and the amazing legacy of his own life’s work. Throughout he was cordial, focused, insightful and engaging. I had the impression that he was also an extremely smart man.

We could tell from observing his office that he loved sailing (he had numerous clipper models on display), good beers (there were some exotic ones in his refrigerator), and all things Irish. He was very proud of the Destino project and listening to the story of how it came about, how he discovered the drawings, paintings and storyboards for the film in the Disney vaults, was enthralling. Without his vision, execution and efforts to secure the rights, the world would have never had the opportunity to see the artwork (which has toured the world in a museum show, called Dali and Film), and experience the film itself, which is a true collaboration of Salvador Dali and Walt Disney – two giants in their respective fields.

I view that day in his office as one of the high-points of my career. And every time I see the interview and the Destino film from now on, I’ll have a deeper appreciation for the man we met, his work and that New Year’s Eve day.

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Park West Gallery Artist Interviews: Leslie Lew

Director of Park West Gallery, Morris Shapiro, recently had a rare opportunity to sit down for a chat with artist Leslie Lew. Following is Part 1 of a compelling interview in which the “Sculpted Oils” artist discusses her artwork and thriving career…

Leslie Lew in her studio. Park West Gallery.

Morris Shapiro: One of the things that strikes me about your work, which I find so fascinating and appealing, is that the notion of Pop Art and American Art is often about taking imagery from our culture and elevating it to art from a context in which it’s not art. You have this very positive idea of finding things in our culture, in our past particularly, that elevate people and bring them wonderful feelings about their past, about growing up in America.

Leslie Lew: I feel that we all have little portions of our lives…maybe when you were a child…that fresh and that wonderful time when you saw life in a totally different way and everything was new and exciting. That’s what I’m dealing with. I’m almost channeling memories. I’m channeling moments that we’ve all had. People see my work and they say, “I remember when I did that…” or, “This brings back my memory of…” And it’s not one experience—there are all these little moments of our lives. I feel I am a recorder of history; I feel I am almost channeling that and grabbing it for posterity. Life has changed so much; life now is so chaotic. We’ve got Home Depot, we’ve got Bed, Bath and Beyond. We don’t have those little stores any longer; they have gone out of existence. So I grab these little moments that we’ve had, because we need to keep them. It’s our American heritage; it’s part of our souls.

MS: Tell us about the three artists who were your primary influences—Peter Max, Andy Warhol and Norman Rockwell.

LL: Peter Max, with the vibrant and explosive color. People who like Peter Max tend to gravitate toward my work. He draws from popular American culture, so I can see that. And of course Warhol is the ultimate Pop artist. Like my father, he was in advertising before he was a painter.

MS: So from Peter Max you get the idea of reaching the public with cultural iconography. And Warhol has influenced your Pop style, where you appropriate things from culture. What about Norman Rockwell?

LL: From Norman Rockwell I learned to appeal to the soul. It’s about our whole memories, like macaroni and cheese and meatloaf—comfort food—appealing to those memories that we have deep in our soul. I’m so happy because people get it; they may not know about art, but they love it. And people who are collecting Picasso’s and Rembrandts also get it. I just love that.

Norman Rockwell did a lot of scenes of Americana. You know…the barber shop scene with the little boy getting his hair cut, the army scenes, soldiers, things that were happening in his life. For me, I think I’ve done something similar for my generation—the Baby Boomers. I’ve noticed, though, that even people in their 20s and 30s still seem to be able to relate. And I grab those kinds of ideas. I’ve done a barber shop, and I didn’t put anybody in it, but there are a lot of products. It’s almost about the barber and his shop. He’s got his little coat in there and he’s got his little icons on the shelf and a hairdryer, and the mirror reflects his jacket. Or I do the Animal Crackers because we’ve all had animal crackers.

MS: Tell me about Animal Crackers.

LL: Animal crackers. I think that’s got to be better than Campbell’s soup. It’s the epitome of every childhood. Everybody growing up in America has had animal crackers. My son has had them, you have had them, I’ve had them. I would say most people in the world have. I don’t even know if I thought about that when I first started doing animal cracker paintings. I just loved the animals and I loved the idea of building them up and making them like little live creatures.

MS: And this particular subject is, I think, one of your most popular. I understand you made a painting which is in the Mayo Clinic.

LL: Yes, the very first animal cracker painting that I ever painted was purchased by the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. What made me feel really great was that they hung it in the lobby of the children’s ward. When the kids walk in, and these are scared, sick kids, the first thing they get to see is Animal Crackers. And literally, every one of those kids lights up. They are allowed to touch it, and I think in some ways it might be a little bit of a healing thing, too…

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Stay tuned to the Park West Gallery blog for Part 2 of this fascinating interview with Leslie Lew!

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Experiencing Rockwell

“I cannot convince myself that a painting is good unless it is popular. If the public dislikes one of my Post covers,
I can’t help disliking it myself.”

– Norman Rockwell

Essay by Park West Gallery Director, Morris Shapiro

On March 8, 2009 the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) opened its exhibition, American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell. On the day of the opening, The Detroit Free Press “art critic” Mark Stryker (the newspaper’s music critic, who evidently was tapped to become the art critic after another round of Detroit business layoffs) penned his review. His opening tag line: “Love the show, hate the art.” You can save time by not reading the article. That tag line perfectly sums up Stryker’s opinion.

Art Critic, Norman Rockwell

Online, a volley of reactionary comments to Stryker’s column lined up in the opinion blogs. They ranged from absolute venom (typical online stuff) to comments from readers who completely ignored Stryker’s opinion just to laud the show and encourage Detroiters to go see it and support the museum and its efforts.

Another part of the Free Press’s coverage was a side bar, “Was Norman Rockwell a Great Artist?” The DIA’s curator, a professor (whose mother modeled for Rockwell), and a well known Detroit artist weighed in. The artist, Charles McGee, expressed a prevailing attitude towards Rockwell’s work that dogged him during his life and has continued to this day. “I think Rockwell was a great illustrator. To me there’s a big difference between illustration and fine art. It’s not that each isn’t good in its own right, but one is selling a product as far as I’m concerned and the other is selling itself.”

I went to see the show with my 14 year old daughter, Amanda, who had written a biographical report on Rockwell for her history class a few months before. Her assignment was to write about an American artist, and when she asked me who she should consider (perhaps one of the benefits of having a dad in the biz) I replied immediately that it should be Norman Rockwell and expressed to her my reasons why.

Ironically, during her research for the report we as a family flew to Europe to attend a Park West Gallery collector event. One night at dinner we mentioned to a client that Amanda was researching Rockwell, and she proceeded to inform us that she had modeled for him when she was a child; her image appeared on a 1957 Saturday Evening Post cover. Big mistake to say that to me because I surely drove this woman “nuts” querying her about every aspect of Rockwell’s working process and his personality.

Amanda’s report included an interview with our guest – and she ended up with an “A.” Not surprisingly, Amanda was just as excited to see the show as I was. During the entire time she was working on the paper, her teacher was gently ridiculing Rockwell and needling her about her choice. His point was the same as Stryker’s and McGee’s: Not an artist, just an “illustrator.”

Where does this attitude come from? How can an artist who contributed so much to the culture and artistic identity of America (this is profoundly apparent when stepping into the final room of the exhibition and seeing each of the 323 Saturday Evening Post magazine covers he created during seven decades) be so pejoratively viewed by the art “establishment”?

The answer is obvious. There is a disconnect, a separation (more like a chasm) in the art world between the arbiters of what is and isn’t “art” and the American people. This was never more apparent to me than when we left the museum and I saw the lines of enthusiastic people; families with young children, seniors from my parents’ generation, and students. People of all races and ages, all queuing up for tickets and filling the galleries, anxious to experience Rockwell’s…art – actually hungry for it.

Rockwell was keenly aware of his image as a mere “illustrator” and frustrated enough to address it many times in his art. Trained as a “fine artist,” he was well steeped (as all of the great ones were) in the history and narrative of his profession.

In one of the photographs included in the exhibition of him working in his studio (in my opinion, the most important painting in the show - The Problem We All Live With, 1963), I caught a blurry image of Rembrandt’s etching masterpiece, The Hundred Guilder Print. It was in the upper left corner hanging on the wall amidst his own studies and drawings. This delighted me (I’m sure most people wouldn’t have noticed it) because I had just been marveling at the use of chiaroscuro in so many of the canvasses of Rockwell.

Triple Self Portrait, Norman RockwellRockwell’s Triple Self Portrait, one of the most popular and amusing of all his famous images, deals directly with this paradox of the power of his work and his popular image as a “commercial” artist. In it we see pinned to his canvas self-portraits of Durer, Rembrandt, and Van Gogh as well as a Picasso Cubist head. It is well known that Rockwell greatly admired the old masters and was enthralled by Picasso and even Pollack. The painting, which reveals his astonishing technique in the masterful articulation of the fabric of his shirt, the mirror into which he peers, and the golden helmet mounted at the top of his easel, defies us as viewers to ignore or diminish his prodigious mastery of oil on canvas while at the same time casts visual puns about who it is he is portraying.

In another captivating work, Art Critic, 1955, a young art student examines a painting through a magnifying glass while holding his easel and palette (with real globs of paint affixed). The woman in this portrait (based on a Rubens) looks back at the student with an expression of surprise, as if to say the young man is too close and is staring at her bosom. Behind him is a painting of three 17th Century Dutch gentlemen (again a nod to Rembrandt) who appear to stop their conversation to peer with surprise at the young student’s indiscretion.

This is a great and amusing scene until one looks at the technique Rockwell displays. It’s as if he says to us, “Take a look at my ‘chops,’ those of you who question my artistic legitimacy. I can do Dutch and French masters as good as they did and use them in the background of my paintings.”

From my own experience, it has been an honor to work with Curtis Publishing, the owners of the intellectual rights to Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post imagery, and the Norman Rockwell Licensing Company, managed by the artist’s family, in the development of limited edition prints created exclusively for Park West Gallery clients. More recently, these works have been realized as hand-drawn lithographs created at the same studio French artist Marcel Mouly used for the creation of his lithographs.

I’ve also had the pleasure of offering original Rockwell drawings and seeing several of them collected. It is truly a thrill for an art dealer to be a part of the joy experienced by someone who has the rare opportunity to acquire something of this kind of rarity and historic importance. Through this process and in viewing so many of his works, I have gained a deeper appreciation for Rockwell’s art.

Norman Rockwell produced over 4,000 works of art in his lifetime, a lifetime that he devoted to unfailing artistic discipline and committed to sharing his view of our world with an emphasis on humankind’s higher morals and enduring values. His messages of family, equality, freedom, tolerance, and even human shortcomings touched more Americans than any other artist with our shared heritage. His contributions to the American spirit during World War II are legendary, particularly in the way that he focused not so much on our soldiers fighting abroad but on the heroism and bravery of the everyday people who remained at home.

So once again, we have to ask: How can an artist of such power, possessing spectacular technical genius and an unparalleled ability to communicate and touch so many, be so often dismissed by those who claim to wield the power of judgment as to what is and isn’t “art”?

The answer is too long and complex to be addressed here. I have written about it before and continue to vigorously share my own views on the topic. It has to do with the long (and unfortunate, in my opinion) history of art that extends from Duchamp to Warhol and resides today in the likes of Damien Hirst, whose works fetched unprecedented prices last year for “sculptures” of cigarette butts in medicine cabinets, dead flies on canvas, and his “masterpiece,” a dead calf in a glass case.

It has to do with the fact that when people crave the experiences that art can provide such as elevation of the human spirit, a demonstration of the results of unflagging dedication to hard work and excellence, and a jumping off point into the contemplations of human thought and spiritual meaning, these works of “art” leave us cold, unfulfilled, perplexed, and often angry when discovering the sums paid for them by museums and collectors. There is no way we can know what the future will hold for this kind of art.

As I travelled the halls of the museum with my young daughter in tow, as we moved past the paintings by Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Degas, Renoir, Cezanne, Picasso, and dozens of others who built on the narrative of the art that came before them, I couldn’t help but believe that as long as there are people on this planet, these works will be precious. They will forever be emblems of human greatness and our aspiration to reach for higher and deeper understandings of beauty and the miraculous around us. Thinking about Norman Rockwell, I saw him fitting perfectly into that same pantheon of masters in another hundred years.

We continued on to the contemporary wing of the DIA. We turned a corner and on the floor to our left we encountered a “sculpture” by American artist, Yayoi Kusama. The work entitled Silver Shoes is a clear acrylic box, encasing 23 shoes with cloth protrusions emanating from the openings, everything spray-painted silver. It’s a work, I am confident, Mr. Stryker would love. However, there was no line of people outside the museum queuing up to buy tickets to see it. No line of people behind the work patiently waiting to view it. No “audio tour” devices pressed up against people’s ears in contemplation before it. In fact, there was no one looking at it at all.

They were all downstairs, Experiencing Rockwell.

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