"A face in the picture would bother me, so I'd rub it out with the turpentine and do it over."―Norman Rockwell, 3rd February, 1894-8th November, 1978.
The man who conjured more than 4,000 original pieces with the swish of his magic paint brush, be it calendars, booklets, books, magazines, or simply publicity posters for movies, Norman Rockwell, is a legend in his own domain. Rockwell's masterpieces are today either the property of connoisseurs who enjoyed the fecund touch of the master, or have been lost forever, engulfed by the wrath of fire. But, other than being the man who managed to dress up the covers of 'The Saturday Evening Post' over a stretch of 40 years, and also bagged the Silver Buffalo Award (the most prestigious 'Boy Scout of America' award) in 1939, Rockwell was a man of words too. Here are some quotes that not only gave insight into the artist's personality, but also etched out his journey as a famous painter in more ways than one. After all he quoted that:
"Without thinking too much about it in specific terms, I was showing the America I knew and observed to others who might not have noticed. My fundamental purpose is to interpret the typical American. I am a storyteller."
Norman Rockwell's Take on Painting Famous People
"Eisenhower had about the most expressive face I ever painted, I guess. Just like an actor's. Very mobile. When he talked, he used all the facial muscles. And he had a great, wide mouth that I liked. When he smiled, it was just like the sun came out."―Rockwell was given the honor to create the portrait of US President Dwight D. Eisenhower. He also ended up being summoned to paint the portraits of John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Richard Milhous Nixon. He had also used his skills to paint some famous people like the Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser in his lifetime.
"It wouldn't be right for me to clown around when I'm painting a president."
"If you look at that picture for the 1964 election, you'll see I showed three different poses of Johnson―two of them smiling, but one of them grim, just like when we walked in that room. Lord, but those eyes of his could be cold."
"Some folks think I painted Lincoln from life, but I haven't been around that long. Not quite."
"Lady Bird Johnson had that extra-special Southern charm that you just can't resist. Mrs. Goldwater was charming, too. And she was the smart one. She really didn't want to be the First Lady at all. And she got her wish."
"I didn't know what to expect from a famous movie star; maybe that he'd be sort of stuck-up, you know. But not Gary Cooper. He horsed around so much... that I had a hard time painting him."―He painted a lot of celebrities in his career. One of his most famous paintings was that of Hollywood actress Judy Garland in the year 1969. It happened to be among his last pieces.
His Views on Painting
In the year 1959, Rockwell utilized the mourning period after his wife's demise to create his autobiography My Adventures as an Illustrator, with his son Thomas. More than an artist, he preferred being called an illustrator.
"Some people have been kind enough to call me a fine artist. I've always called myself an illustrator. I'm not sure what the difference is. All I know is that whatever type of work I do, I try to give it my very best. Art has been my life."
"I talk as I sketch, too, in order to keep their minds off what I'm doing so I'll get the most natural expression I can from them. Also, the talking helps to size up the subject's personality, so I can figure out better how to portray him."
"You must first spend some time getting your model to relax. Then you'll get a natural expression."
"Right from the beginning, I always strived to capture everything I saw as completely as possible."
"The '20s ended in an era of extravagance, sort of like the one we're in now. There was a big crash, but then the country picked itself up again, and we had some great years. Those were the days when American believed in itself. I was happy and proud to be painting it."
"No man with a conscience can just bat out illustrations. He's got to put all his talent and feeling into them!"
"If a picture wasn't going very well, I'd put a puppy in it."
"I unconsciously decided that, even if it wasn't an ideal world, it should be and so painted only the ideal aspects of it―pictures in which there are no drunken slatterns or self-centered mothers... only foxy grandpas who played baseball with the kids and boys who fished from logs and got up circuses in the backyard."
"The view of life I communicate in my pictures excludes the sordid and ugly. I paint life as I would like it to be. "
"The mouth is always wrong on a portrait, you know. But in India, they all commented mostly on just one thing, their color. I had no idea that skin color was so important there. But everyone I painted in that country thought I made them look too dark."―This could be a trigger that made the illustrator paint more serious issues such as racial discrimination in the last years of his life. His works in the 'Look' magazine are indicative of this fact.
In spite of being an artist and a creative mind, Rockwell strangely wasn't unaware of his flaws, which is truly a very rare quality. The following famous quotes bear witness to this fact.
"My best efforts were some modern things that looked like very lousy Matisses. Thank God I had the sense to realize they were lousy, and leave Paris."
"Very interesting for an old duffer like me to try his hand at something new. If I don't do that once in a while, I might just turn into a fossil, you know!"
"I learned to draw everything except glamorous women. No matter how much I tried to make them look sexy, they always ended up looking silly... or like somebody's mother."
His Thoughts on Personal Interests and Life
"It was a pretty rough neighborhood where I grew up. The really tough places were over around Third Avenue where it ran into the Harlem River, but we weren't far away."
"I'm still about as pigeon-toed as you can get. But I learned to manage pretty well on a bike. Should have had a bicycle then, when I was a kid, but our family didn't have the money for such luxuries. I saved up to buy one myself a few years later."
"Everyone in those days expected that art students were wild, licentious characters. We didn't know how to be, but we sure were anxious to learn."
"Things aren't much wilder now, I don't think, than they were back then. Of course I just read about all the goings-on now. Ha."
"I'm tired, but proud."
"I'm the oldest antique in town."
"When I go to farms or little towns, I am always surprised at the discontent I find. And New York, too often, has looked across the sea toward Europe. And all of us who turn our eyes away from what we have are missing life."
"The secret to so many artists living so long is that every painting is a new adventure. So, you see, they're always looking ahead to something new and exciting. The secret is not to look back. "
"The commonplaces of America are to me the richest subjects in art. Boys battling flies on vacant lots; little girls playing jacks on the front steps; old men plodding home at twilight―all these things arouse feeling in me."
"Here in New England, the character is strong and unshakable."
"I had a couple of million dollars' worth of... stock once. And now it's not worth much more than wallpaper. I guess I just wasn't born to be rich."
"The remarks about my reaching the age of Social Security and coming to the end of the road, they jolted me. And that was good. Because I sure as hell had no intention of just sitting around for the rest of my life. So I'd whip out the paints and really go to it."
"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."
"I sure did enjoy square-dancing. That was great fun. Great exercise, too. Harder than chopping wood. You get a good caller and he'll run the legs off you."
"Travel is like a tonic to me. It's more than just getting away from the studio for a brief rest. I need it to recharge my batteries."
"I've always loved Dickens. And Henry James. Tolstoy, Dostoevsky."
"I was asked to illustrate the classics of Mark Twain. He's one of my very favorite authors. I felt great!"―Out of the 40 books he was commissioned to work on, Twain's Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were two of them.
"I'm not going to be caught around here for any fool celebration. To hell with birthdays!"
Perhaps the greatest gift of this artist was his modesty. He was a simple man who did not pretend to live above human expectations and desires. He sought appreciation like all mortals. I leave you with one of my favorite Norman Rockwell quotes which totally brought out his quest and thirst for recognition with almost childlike desperation.
"I can take a lot of pats on the back. I love it when I get admiring letters from people. And, of course, I'd love it if the critics would notice me, too."