We also visited the exhibition of National Geographic artwork. I blogged more about the show in a previous post.
In 1988, in honor of its centennial, National Geographic asked me to create a painting to express the magazine’s legacy of adventure and discovery. Instead of portraying some bold explorer, I thought it would be fun to show something more poignant and homespun—an old man looking back on his life and his world through the pages of old magazines.
In the exhibit, my painting hangs alongside the preliminary sketches, letters, and photos that went into its creation.
The painting shows an old man and his grandson in an attic, surrounded by the mementos of the man’s life: a military uniform, an old family photo, and a ship clock. I searched out all those items from real attics in my hometown and asked two friends to pose.
In early concepts for the painting, the man sat all by himself. The idea didn’t quite work. It was depressing because the man looked lonely, despite the cat rubbing against his leg.
Here’s a small early charcoal study. I did several of these, and a few small color sketches in oil. I also drew a full-size charcoal comp, which appears alongside the finished painting.
Of course comparisons to Norman Rockwell are inevitable with a subject like this. His work comes to mind whenever you paint American characters in a narrative setting. I love Rockwell’s work, but I wanted to make a picture that was authentic and not derivative, so I closed all my books on him while I was working on this piece and tried to find my answers in real life.
The finished painting is in oil, 24x36 inches. This detail shows the cool light from the window and the warm illumination bouncing back from the attic space. I tried to capture the boy’s faraway expression, as if the magazine and his grandfather’s memories were taking him to another world.
Installation photos courtesy Allentown Art Museum. For any museum interested in booking "National Geographic: The Art of Exploration," contact Mary Dawson at the Norman Rockwell Museum at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tomorrow: More Art By Committee