When thinking about the kind of ubiquity Rockwell enjoyed and the kind of artists who currently enjoy anywhere near that kind of public consumption, the work of children’s book authors and illustrators comes to mind, as does that of comic book artists and writers.
It makes sense then that Tony DiTerlizzi, a fantasy artist known for his work with Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering, as well as his role as illustrator and co-author of The Spiderwick Chronicles, a children’s fantasy series is having his work shown at the Rockwell museum.
DiTerlizzi says he grew up enjoying Rockwell’s work. His parents treasured a book of Rockwell’s art, only allowing the children to look at the book with adults present.
Asked whether he sees himself as now having the kind of reach of Rockwell with his fantasy art, DiTerlizzi said he was flattered but that he thinks fantasy art isn’t quite in the same place as comic books yet.
“I do think it is the nerdy and geeky guys from my generation who are in charge of Hollywood now. And I do meet tons of people who remember my early work on Magic: The Gathering but I don’t think there is critical mass yet. That will change soon. People aren’t walking around with “Beholder” or “Owl Bearer” shirts like they are Iron Man but that is changing.”
Tony DiTerlizzi, Goblin Warbuggy, 1998. Acryla gouache on Bristol board. Illustration for Magic The Gathering, 1998. ©Tony DiTerlizi. All rights reserved.
While Rockwell mined the “nobility of the everyman,” DiTerlizzi taps into his childhood imagination to inspire all of his work.
“When I’m creating worlds like Spiderwick, when I’m building things from scratch, I go back to myself as a kid and ask, ‘What does 10-year-old Tony want that 50-year-old Tony can build now?’”
DiTerlizzi says he revisits his childhood bedroom and how he’d play–”It was Star Wars, Micronauts, comic books–just one big stew and my brother and sister and I would like with all of it like–Han Solo fighting dinosaurs alongside Barbie– ‘Oh, here comes Iron Man!’ And I’m in the same place now. I’m creating stories for children from that perspective of unadulterated imagination.”
DiTerlizzi says he’s spoken to Game of Thrones author George RR Martin about his process and it isn’t dissimilar. “George has a collection of toy soldiers that he uses to plot various things. I told him, ‘You’re playing with them the same way I play with my toys!’”
This adult illustrator says that even his exhibit at the Rockwell Museum is designed to inspire aspiring young artists–to invite them to play with his toys. “When I was a child I would leave exhibits overwhelmed. I knew I loved the work but I thought, ‘I’m never going to be able to do that.’ There were no mistakes, no clues to process. One of the things I really wanted to do was show the process, show the ways I copied other people, because copying turns into emulation and then into something totally new.”
To accomplish this DiTerlizzi is including art he created throughout grade school, high school and college. “I wanted to show that this is a life-long journey. I want people to look at a period of my work and say ‘I can do that. I’m not that far off from where he was here.’”
Never Abandon Imagination: The Fantastical Art of Tony DiTerlizzi is showing at The Norman Rockwell Museum until May 28. DiTerlizzi will give a talk at the museum on April 7 at 5 PM. The museum is also hosting roleplaying nights and a family day with DiTerlizzi.
The Norman Rockwell Museum is celebrating one of its namesake’s most famous works, The Four Freedoms. The series of four oil paintings was inspired by President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1941 Four Freedoms State of the Union Address that identified four essential freedoms he believed due to all human beings. While other artists tried to capture the spirit of Roosevelt’s speech, it was Rockwell’s images that caught the public’s imagination through The Saturday Evening Post including a tour and exhibition sponsored by the treasury department that raised over $132 million for the nation’s war efforts.
In a way, the exhibition is a study in successful propaganda. “One of the important aspects of the show is that it examines the way in which art shaped public sensibility,” said Stephanie Plunkett, deputy director/chief curator of the Norman Rockwell Museum. “When Roosevelt declared the four freedoms it didn’t catch on. Americans didn’t really understand. Roosevelt put out a call to artists to take up the idea and it wasn’t until Rockwell’s four images were published that was made real for people.”
Perhaps most interesting about the work is that it in some ways highlights the somewhat perilous position Roosevelt faced in trying to convince the American people to get involved in a European war.
Rockwell’s work will be displayed along with the work of his contemporaries, political documents and works from the past that are designed to galvanize support for freedom.
Rockwell’s work was consumed in a way that few, if any artists enjoy today. “I don’t think there is anyone in publishing, or art that have that same stature,” said Plunkett. “Maybe there are a few filmmakers you could equate these days–Spielberg, Lucas have the kind of positivity people looked to from Rockwell but they don’t have the same ability to shape the view of five million weekly subscribers.”
Enduring Ideals: Rockwell, Roosevelt & the Four Freedoms will begin a tour of the country in late May. You can see the paintings at The Norman Rockwell Museum until the end of the month.