Summer Stock

Spotted this at a stodgy antique mall in Ballston Spa, New York… Rarely have any of Norman Rockwell’s paintings struck me as powerfully as this one, entitled “Summer Stock”

Thing is, I have acres of respect for the considerable chops of Norman Rockwell, but his obsession with capturing and venerating everyday life often leads to him to over-compensate. A strained exaggeration creeps in, cracking the integrity of his scenes, exposing them to gusts of corniness.

Here, everything gels… As the young actress applies her lipstick she is, for the moment, utterly divorced from the opulent costume she inhabits – a separation underscored by the abrupt shift between her strawberry blond hair and the bight brick red wig atop it. The power of this painting lies in locating this ordinary moment underneath and amidst the artifice. This is Rockwell’s wholesomeness at its most subtle – theater, and by extension, art, letting down its guard to remind us of its essential humanity.