Monday, October 22, 2012

Rockwell Kent

Rockwell Kent was a painter, illustrator and writer. He was born in 1882, the same year as contemporaries Edward Hopper and George Bellows. He died in 1971 after a prolific lifetime publishing adventure memoirs about his travels to Alaska, Ireland, Greenland and more. His travels influenced his work, which has a sense of transcendentalism and the sublime qualities of grand landscapes. However, his homeplace of New York also influenced his work, which uses the human figure in an epic, isolated way that speaks to great potential of humankind. This prophetic quality seems to be related to the time in which he lived - he came of age at the turn of the century, living through great advances in technology, two world wars, and the Depression. Kent's life spanned a time of upheaval, turmoil and change, and his work seems to take all of it into account. His grand images show his hopeful view and the glory of nature which might be humankind's salvation. Kent was commercially successful throughout his life, including through the Depression, which might explain his ability to see the potential in humanity. He also lived for most of his life on a ranch he named Asgaard (the name of the living place of the gods in Norse mythology), belying his interest in godliness and ascension, another site from which his hope might stem.

To achieve these sublime qualities, Kent uses woodcuts. This media is well suited to his subtlely stark images, because of the sharp contrast between black and white. He uses the carving to create a lot of light, as in the third image with the illuminating sun. I find his prints to be more successful for what I am interested in than his paintings, precisely because of these qualities. His paintings, in color, seem to be more interested in the beauty and transcendence in nature, and less in a sort of extreme mythological view of humanity.

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