Last Saturday, the sophisticated veneers of District artists dissolved for a night: They owned up to loving Norman Rockwell. In one of the first local manifestations of the post-Seinfeldian return to earnestness, area artists presented what amounted to a Rockwell tribute—a group show called “Rockwellian Times”—at 57 N Fine Art.
Local artists M. Jordan Tierney and Judy Jashinsky cooked up this riff on Rockwell over a year ago, when the Corcoran Museum of Art announced its Rockwell retrospective. Tierney and Jashinsky figured that Rockwell’s white-washed images, which Tierney calls “comforting yet repellent,” would incite enough ire and/or awe in the local painting community to merit a show coinciding with “Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People,” which opened June 17 and runs until Sept. 24. The pair roped in local independent curator Annie Gawlak to curate the show and entice local figurative-painting veterans to join in.
By last Saturday night’s opening, most “Rockwellian Times” artists had checked out the Corcoran show. For many, seeing the Rockwell canvases live had allowed them to appreciate the artist’s technique and get past the kitschy subject matter that had made admiring Rockwell taboo.
“As a figurative-narrative artist, there’s this little hand that taps you on the shoulder that says, ‘You have to hate him—he’s just an illustrator,’” said Jashinsky, costumed for the occasion in her best Rockwellian get-up—a pink gingham dress with her hair pulled up in a ponytail. Those who had once snubbed Rockwell were free to gush again.
Local painter Fred Folsom counted himself among the newly smitten. Known for his salacious canvases depicting working-class beer dens and babes, Folsom contributed a decidedly unsentimental canvas painted in the mid-’80s called Shadows and Green Glass. In it, four rowdy guys crowd around an old table drinking Budweiser from cans; one guy pulls a gun on his buddy in a morbidly playful sparring match. The little scene is illuminated by an open refrigerator and includes a naked woman slumping on a stool. The painting is a takeoff on Rockwell’s rendition of Thanksgiving dinner, Freedom From Want, in which a jolly family leans in around the dinner table as Grandma and Grandpa America present a hulking turkey on a platter.
“The great hope for America was Rockwell’s ideal,” Folsom said. “For 20 years, I was reacting against that naive view.” But of late, the artist says, Rockwell’s sanitized version of reality no longer troubles him. “[Now] I’m applauding it,” Folsom admits. “And I can’t figure out what used to aggravate me.” —Jessica Dawson