Alex Ross' Comic-Book Art Shows Influences Including Norman Rockwell

By Shaw, Kurt | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, October 9, 2011 | Go to article overview

Alex Ross' Comic-Book Art Shows Influences Including Norman Rockwell


Shaw, Kurt, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


It may seem an odd idea to see comic-book art in a museum. But one look at the work of Alex Ross and you will understand why it is featured in a major exhibit, "Heroes & Villains," at The Andy Warhol Museum.

Truth is, there could be no better place to laud Ross' art than The Warhol. After all, Ross is considered by many to be the Norman Rockwell of the comics world and his photorealistic works are oft noted as being the first to represent superheroes as if they are real people.

But when the Warhol's director of exhibitions, Jesse Kowalski, an ardent comic book fan, first proposed the idea of organizing a retrospective exhibition of the artist's work, it wasn't well received.

"To many, people comic books have a stigma of being amateur fantasy art thumbed through by pimply adolescents in their parents' basements," Kowalski says. "'Comic books do not equal art.' It is true that a lot of comic book art is not terrific, especially now that artists have left pencils for computers, figuratively and literally distancing themselves from the paper surface."

But when Kowalski showed high-resolution images of Ross's work to Warhol director Eric Shiner and staff, opinions changed.

"I posited that much of Ross's art is an extension of classic American illustration, from early 20th-century Saturday Evening Post covers to the Americana of Norman Rockwell to the pop art of Andy Warhol," Kowalski says.

Now, visitors to the museum have an opportunity to either agree or disagree with the curator. And more than likely, upon seeing "Heroes & Villains," they will agree.

Occupying the entire seventh floor of the museum, the exhibit includes 134 works by Ross, including paintings, drawings, photographs and sculptures from Ross's personal collection, and works by classic American illustrators J.C. Leyendecker, Andrew Loomis and Rockwell. As always, there are a few wonderful works by Warhol thrown in for good measure.

The exhibit begins with some of Ross's earliest works, comic books he created at age 4. Above those, arranged on a shelf, are a series of cardboard figurines he made at age 11 of all of his favorite superheroes, proving that, even at a young age, Ross was a comic-book protege like none other.

Ross, who was born in 1970 in Portland, Oregon, is the son of Lynette Ross, a successful fashion illustrator in Chicago during the 1950s. She has more than half a dozen works on display, too. But other artists influenced the young Ross as well, which is why an entire gallery is dedicated to those influences.

Here, visitors will be surprised to find not one, but three original works by Rockwell. Most impressive is "The Golden Rule," an oil-on-canvas on loan from the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass. …

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