Monday, September 15, 2008

Wray Gunn

At the Norman Rockwell Museum on Friday I met the gentleman who posed for Mr. Rockwell’s famous painting “New Kids in the Neighborhood.”

Wray Gunn of Stockbridge was the black boy to the left of the scene. He said that many members of his family posed for Rockwell’s other paintings during this period.

He showed me a series of prints of the photos that Rockwell worked from.

I did a quick sketch of him in the same angle as the original picture, 41 years later. The Norman Rockwell Museum has several museum docents who are former models.


Dan Gurney said...

WrayGunn... wasn't he the governor of California?

Super Villain said...

great post! was that guys name really wray gunn, haha, man...

this brings up a question and subject about Rockwell and other artists.

for me it looks like Norman Rockwell used lots of photo reference for a lot of his paintings. i think this is why he was able to get his paintings to be almost photo realistic.

my question is this, is Norman Rockwell cheating by using photos as reference and not working from a live model? i use photo reference a lot. and i'm told that i'm not a "true artist" that i'm cheating, that if i don't do it from a live model or live at the landscape its not really art?

from the post here it looks like Norman Rockwell almost line for line used the photo reference for his painting. and in a few of Norman Rockwells books i've seen him using a grid technique draw from photos.

i still consider Norman Rockwell to be one of the greatest illustrators and painters of all time. but has he cheated? are artists who work from live models better? are people who work from photo not really "true artists"?

i don't mean to disrespect anyone but i was just reading "The Best of Norman Rockwell, A Celebration of American's Favorite Illustrator" yesterday, so when this post came up today i wanted to ask the question, i'm curious where other artists think the line is as far as photo reference and cheating goes?

Anonymous said...

Hey Wu, there's no such thing as "cheating" in art. Everyone has a technique that works for them, and there's nothing wrong with that if you use photo references. While doing lots of life drawing with a model will help keep your figure drawing skills fresh, it doesn't make you any more or less of an artist.

Art is not a game, so there's no way to cheat. Maybe you should surround yourself with people who are less eager to judge you as an artist. ;)

James Gurney said...

Super Wu: you raise a very valid question, and one that I've pondered a lot. I think Vulpesferox is right that working over projected photos shouldn't be called "cheating" because there really are no rules.

Rockwell was a long holdout against photo reference, a result of his admiration for Cornwell and Leyendecker, who were purists. And Rockwell himself was the first to call it "an unartistic habit." As time has gone by I've come to appreciate his post-photo work from about 1940 onward just as much as his wonderful early stuff developed from the live model. Both kinds of reference have their upsides and downsides, and of all the artists who used photos, Rockwell was willing to caricature and exaggerate, and really make the picture his own.

Incidentally, the NR Museum is in the midst of a massive project to digitally scan and catalog ALL of Rockwell's tens of thousands of model photos, and you can expect to see some interesting scholarship come out of that work.

Erik Bongers said...

If a piece of art would be of higher value because no photographs have been used, it would also be of more value if it was created balancing on a thightrope while swinging a hulahoop.

In all honesty, if it turned out that Grant Wood painted American Gothic wearing a tutu and hulahooping, I don't think I would be more impressed.

Same for using or not using photographs.

Bottom line: there's a difference between admiring a piece of art and admiring an artist for the effort and skills it took to create that piece of art.

RocknOats said...

I would like to toss in my 4 cents(I have two opinions!) and say that when I work directly from a photo, I feel like I'm "copying" rather than "creating" and I do use photos, but mainly to take a nose, or smile, or a fancy window frame. I know, I would be able to dream up one eventually,but it's just EASIER and saves time and frustration. Now, If I had an opportunity to pose the model, or direct the carpenter and then photograph it so I could work today at lunchtime, and tomorrow at 10pm, etc. I wouldn't have an issue, that's what I wanted from my model, it's just not practical to have them loafing around all day until I need to work again. They have families people! Now, even more important and I can't believe no one has explored this, but that man has about the most awesomest naturally named name ever! WRAY. GUNN. How can you beat that??? Especially growing up in a pre-Star Wars environment! It's like being named "Adam Baum" or something. Fantastic!

Unknown said...

Not only did he use photos from reference, but from what I understand, projected them onto the canvas.

I think the point is that how much faster he could work this way. As Jim says, he wasn't slavishly copying one photo, but integrating many of them along with sketches.

THOMAS NACKID art + design said...

I always like Ray Bradbury's answer to purism:

"A kid once came up to me and said, 'hey in Martian Chronicles you have the moons both rising in the east.' I said yes I did. He said, 'No that isn't right.' So I knocked him down."

Anonymous said...

As an illustrator I often have tight deadlines...and since many of us don't have the luxury of working from a live model, using photos I've shot for reference works just as well for me.

This past June I had the honor of working with Boris Vallejo and his wife Julie Bell at a week long illustration workshop in Amherst. They use photograph references of their models in more than 80% of their work!

And what is a "true" artist, anyway? Someone who can pull figurative art straight from memory out of their brain and onto the canvas? Such a person doesn't exist. If you create art, you are an artist; regardless of how you do it. ;)

Cavematty said...

Hey Poppa Gurney, Long time listner first time caller!
Great blog btw. Especially enjoyed your posts on colour a while back.

This reminds me of a teacher I had at design school. As part of any assignment we would submit not only a final, but a workbook of our idea development. Anyway, this teacher had a strong dislike of ballpoint pen, and would mark you down for using it to draw with in your workbook. I found this infuriating and refused to stop drawing with it (though not solely). But she never changed her opinions, and infact got a bit annoyed with my apparent lack of taste.

My 2 cents on photo reference - a master artist like rockwell, though apparently copying "every line" of the photo, is infact still making many decisions. What to emphasise, what to negate, how to compose his main illustration from the assorted reference photo's. I think it is purely elitist to assume there is a difference in 'worth' depending on the reference source. If the skill is there (though the process of developing said skill surely involves drawing from the model a great deal) then it is just a pragmatic concern. And a photo is surely more practical.

I don't think it is evident from Rockwell's art that he uses photos as opposed to models. Not in the way that say Phil Hale's work takes on so many of the photographic qualities in terms of artificial lighting, and colouring. Therefore, even if you claim it as a matter of taste, if it is not evident in the final product it is surely a moot point.

Any artist who is stuck truly "copying photos" will find himself plateau and discover his own, creative reasons to move past that. However this is a very different issue. I am very for using any tool that will make your art better. Just make sure it does so!

Super Villain said...

i think there are some great points here, and i'm glad that mr gurney had time to comment.

however, i think with all the ideas give it is hard to avoid feeling like a cheat by using photo reference, or even more of a cheat from simpily projecting photos straight onto a canvas.

i found out more about Norman Rockwells use of a projector with this quote...haha and i guess he felt the same way...

"The balopticon (the projector he used to project his photos onto his canvas that he would then trace) is an evil, inartistic, habit-forming, lazy and vicious machine! It also is a useful, time-saving, practical and helpful one. I use one often—and am thoroughly ashamed of it. I hide it whenever I hear people coming. "

haha, so i guess i'm not the only one who feels like he is cheating or is ashamed that he cant just do it from my head or a live model....

but in the end the amount of time saved and usefullness of photos and projectors will outweight any shame haha.....

Stephen James. said...

Looking at paintings like this, "The problem we all live with", and "Southern Justice" I don't see how people make the argument that Rockwell only painted a sentimental/utopian America, and wasn't socially relevant.

Unknown said...

Wonderful post.