Put on your best cape and let’s fly to the Norman Rockwell Museum! Today’s post is by one of our store managers and resident comic book nerd, Jake.
I was online last Friday morning when I read that a friend was going to see an Alex Ross exhibit at the Norman Rockwell museum in Stockbridge, MA. I was flabbergasted! How in all of geekdom did I not know about a show of one of my all-time favorite comic book artists that was going on just a couple of hours away?! Even more catastrophic, it was ending in 2 days! This was probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience to see some very famous (for comic book fans, anyway) original pieces of his painted superheroes. I managed to take the afternoon off from work (hey, we got a blog post out of it), grabbed my wife along with her niece & nephew, and made like the Flash to western MA .
It was amazing! I was familiar with nearly every artwork in the exhibit – they were all on my bookshelf at home. While some pieces were high quality reproductions from Ross’s own collection, many were the actual paintings. Seeing Aquaman or the Green Lantern in the scale that they’d been rendered, with all the little details that you don’t see in the published versions, was something I didn’t think I’d ever get to do.
Ross became known in comic books when the medium was on a real downturn – there was a glut of junky art and mediocre stories in the early 90s. He brought a fresh look and gave iconic characters back their prestige. His classical approach to depicting super heroes with incredible realism hadn’t really been seen like this before. Typically, publishers use 3 aritsts – a penciller, an inker, and a colorist. But Ross told stories thru painting all of his own work. Not many artists can please fans like he did and make the leap into the mainstream where his work became known outside of just avid collectors.
If it seems strange that the Norman Rockwell Museum would be hosting a show of comic book art, it’s because Rockwell’s work has always informed Alex Ross’s paintings – he’s never made a secret of that. After noticing the close resemblance between some of the pieces, more cynical people might say that he’s ripping off the great American artist. Personally, I love that there’s such a strong tie between the two. It makes sense to me because comic books and Rockwell’s images are so very American. And I enjoy the idea that Rockwell’s sensibilities help elevate these characters that many think of as being cartoonish or goofy. But with Ross’s help, visitor’s to the show left with the same impression of these heroes that those of us who visit our local comic shop live with everyday.
Here’s a great comparison of the two artists, along with Ross’s own words about how Rockwell’s illustration for the United Nations inspired him.
“What impacted me so strongly here was the flatness of the composition in imagining all these people swapped out for superheroes, which I did, there’s something very powerful to that. Something too that I engaged with from how this particular pencil piece worked, is that the foreground figures of the United Nations members are lit by some kind of overhead light which separates them from the background figures. He also had a way of illuminating subjects where it felt very realistic in a way that would help me get across the idea of wanting to render these fantastic characters realistically. I wanted you to believe them. I wanted you to look at them and believe that they could be real, but also legitimate too. That the idea of being real people was not devoid of the fantasy that they were also embracing – that the two things seemed utterly understandable and realistic.”
This isn’t our first post about Alex Ross’s comic book art. Take a look at the time we got to frame one of his original drawings!
Big Picture Framing
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