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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Roz Chast: Cartoon Memoirs at Norman Rockwell Museum

A New Yorker cover drawing
Credit for this and all other images: Artwork by Roz Chast. ©Roz Chast. All rights reserved.
Who doesn't love Roz Chast? Her quirky take on life, as seen in countless New Yorker cartoons and covers, is the essence of contemporary American neurosis and it makes us laugh in recognition of our own foibles (or, more likely, those of our friends and relatives).

A children's book illustration
So, one recent lovely summer day we took a trip to Stockbridge to enjoy Roz Chast: Cartoon Memoirs at the Norman Rockwell Museum - and were immediately immersed in Roz's world. And I don't just mean immersed via the scads of drawings and artifacts on view. I mean immersed as in, by pure chance, we ran into Roz's cousin Nancy, from Albany, who knew one of my sisters in Jewish youth group about 50 years ago, along with Nancy's husband, and, yes, they were depicted rather accurately in a family group portrait included in the Memoirs on display.

It used to be you wouldn't be surprised to run into one of Norman Rockwell's former child models in Stockbridge - but this was a Roz Chast show in 2015, so we got cousin Nancy instead, and it was even better.

A children's book illustration
The show, by the way, is extensive, beautifully installed, and features a lot more than framed original drawings (many of which are vivid watercolors, so you could call them paintings if you wanted to, but you might get in over your head there, considering the The New Yorker still refers to all its cartoons as drawings, and The New Yorker ought to know).

As I was saying, there are lots of other things to see, including three original hooked rugs (love 'em!), seven handmade mini-books (which can be called artists books and they are wonderful!), four early black-and-white street photographs taken in Brooklyn (not bad, either), a goodly number of intricately painted pysanka eggs (like everything else here, in the signature Chast style), and the aforementioned artifacts, such as a pair of wooden horse-head bookends and other slightly creepy souvenirs of Roz's mother's collecting habits.

Roz Chast in her studio, photo by Jeremy Clowe
There's also a chatty video that was made by NRM Media Manager Jeremy Clowe, which shows Chast in her studio and is in constant cycle on a big TV, with plenty of chairs nearby. I got shooshed more than once by folks watching the video while I talked with Nancy, so I guess they thought it was pretty good. The room with the video features a bunch of framed black-and-white cartoons deployed upon violet walls, which set them off quite nicely. As with just about everything else on view, they are expertly drawn, and hilarious.

An original page for the memoir
The show is built around 120 drawings from Chast's award-winning memoir Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, which are displayed on key-lime green walls. I mention the wall color because it sets off Chast's watercolors so well - and I must point out that her highly refined color sense is much better seen by looking at originals than in reproduction. This underlines the appropriateness of presenting Chast's work in a museum setting - yes, she's an illustrator and a cartoonist and she tells stories and she's funny, but she's also clearly an artist whose work can be aesthetically very beautiful.

A New Yorker cover drawing
I had previously read (really, devoured) the memoir in book form, so I devoted more of my time in the museum to admiring other work - the many New Yorker covers (including trial sketches), as well as a lot of other pictures and picture stories that had been published elsewhere. Just like at a good movie, I laughed, I cried, I got hungry. We left satisfied, and the drive home was lovely, though we did get a little lost.

You will love this show. If you go, plan to spend a lot of time, and definitely bring your reading glasses. Roz Chast: Cartoon Memoirs runs through Oct. 26.


John Rowen said...

I think that there was a character in the Delia Ephron book, Hanging Up, who was based on Roz Chast. Dave, this was a nice combination of reporting, personal recollection and art. Keep up the great work!

Roger Owen Green said...

I FINALLY got to see this TODAY, two days before it closed! Great stuff.

david brickman said...

Roger - You must have run into a lot of people there, as I heard from others who were going today as well. Good foliage drive, too!

Roger Owen Green said...

I DID, including two people who work in my building! They also had an auto show today, and that was fun.

Leo Simpson said...

Thiss is awesome