From Film to Canvas: Norman Rockwell and 8 Other Photorealists


Rosy-cheeked, nostalgic, kitschy, clichéd: our feelings on Norman Rockwell are manifold. Though Rockwell’s depictions of America evoke a certain warm feeling for yesteryear, they are more akin to propagandistic advertisements than high art. It’s worth noting, however, that Rockwell referred to himself as an illustrator, not an artist — a fact that dovetails with his use of photography in creating his iconic images. NPR has a fascinating look at the process behind the lens; peep side-by-side comparisons plus other photorealist picks after the jump.

The Runaway, 1958, is an example of Rockwell’s photo-based illustration work. Courtesy Norman Rockwell Art Collection Trust.

As NPR reports,

Rockwell used photos, taken by a rotating cast of photographers, to make his illustrations, and all of his models were neighbors and friends. Rockwell never kept it a secret, but for some reason this little fact has been neglected in recent decades. While getting permission to use some of the photographs for an online gallery, I was told that for two of the images, I would need to speak to Clemens Kalischer—a name that appears nowhere in the book or in the exhibition. On the other end of the phone line came a gravelly and reticent voice, a voice with quite a story. A German immigrant and young artist-photographer, Kalischer, now 88, moved to Rockwell’s small town of Stockbridge in the 1950s. Kalischer reluctantly assisted Rockwell through the years, but he has kept the photographs to himself and has remained quiet until now.

Rockwell’s Breakfast Table Political Argument from 1948 (left), was a Saturday Evening Post cover on Oct. 30, 1948. Courtesy Harry S. Truman Library. The black-and-white photo it was taken from (right), courtesy of Norman Rockwell Museum.

Photorealism came of age in the 1970s, as embodied by Deutsche Guggenheim’s recent exhibition “Picturing America: Photorealism in the 1970s.” Below, we’ve picked some of the most well-known artists working in the realm of photorealism, many of which are, naturally enough, US-based artists. (We’d say the theme is something akin to the invention of reality television and internet celebrity.) Let us know any we’ve missed in the comments.

Chuck Close, Leslie (1973) and Big Self-Portrait (1968).

Marilyn Minter, Amoeba (2008) and Chewing Pink (2008). © Marilyn Minter, courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles.

Richard Estes, Supreme Hardware (1974). © Richard Estes, courtesy of Marlborough Gallery, New York.

Will Cotton, Ice Cream Cavern (2003) and Ribbon Candy (2008) . Courtesy the artist and Mary Boone Gallery, New York.

Martin Kippenberger, one of the series Dear Painter, Paint for Me (1981). © Estate Martin Kippenberger, private collection.

Robert Bechtle, Foster’s Freeze, Escalon (1975) and Alameda Gran Torino (1974). © Robert Bechtle, courtesy Paule Anglim Gallery, San Francisco.

Adam Stennett, Morning Glory Heavenly Blue with Grenades (2008) and Mouse Swimming Overhead 1 (2004). Courtesy the artist and 31GRAND, New York.

Gerhard Richter, Lesende (1994), © Gerhard Richter, courtesy San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Duane Hanson, Traveller (1988) and Housepainter (1988). © Estate of Duane Hanson, licensed by VAGA, New York.

Bonus: South Florida artist Duane Hanson took photorealism low-brow and 3D with his eerily lifelike sculptures of indigenous Southern species like tourists and blue-collar workers.