Lorette C. Luzajic reconsiders Norman Rockwell, Wayne Gretzky and Australian Shiraz.
There’s a bit of a Norman Rockwell revival going on, with recent news coverage remembering his magazine covers, and a Roanoke show until mid June focusing on the painter’s passionate political views on civil rights. HuffPo has even weighed in, in its trademark weighty analysis, on “Rockwell: Artist or Illustrator?”
Rockwell’s work has long grated on our cultural nerves for its exceedingly saccharine observation of the first half of 20th century American life. But now that all of that is so last century, the artist’s prolific output has taken on a certain kind of charm. Rockwell’s oeuvre works far better in retrospect- it takes on an air of being “ironic” that gives the stuff a little heaping of genius. The paintings feel tongue-in-cheek and mildly satirical.
Already, I digress. Apologies. Before me is what I wished to discuss: a stupendous Rockwell classic, an illustration of a gray suited, shiny-shoed Dad showing Sonny some kind of certificate. The young man plays a nonexistent genre of teenage boy, dutifully adoring, hands clasped in auricular obeisance. The piece depicts a requisite beagle, faithful at Father’s side, head cocked as adoringly as the son’s. And of course, the art comes complete with a family room painting of a sailboat.
For me, Rockwell’s corny vignette takes the cake of all art for the theme of fatherhood. This stylized, idealized notion hits my funny bone but also reminds me of my fortune, in having this exact relationship with my own Daddy.
Now, my own moments with my father don’t look much like this: swap the man’s slacks for factory khakis, and scratch a bit at the squeaky clean veneer by placing a bottle of booze on the table. We have a multitude of memories of BBQ and Malbec. Together, we drank from the well at Cana, and shared the cup again in the garden at Golgotha. Together, we braved boxed French Cross when there was nothing else at the party. And we chilled white wine in the cool of the water while camping on Manitoulin Island, the perfect accompaniment for trout.
The only conceivable Father’s Day gift is wine. No one, not even Rockwell’s Father, needs more socks or another tie.
Looking for just the right bottles, I ask a clerk half my age for his expertise on a product with the most interesting finish. He reaches for Wayne Gretzky Estates Shiraz Cabernet 2013 , which by coincidence is made right in Niagara-on-the-Lake where Dad invented me. Quintessentially Canadian, Pops loves hockey, too, so it’s perfect for the occasion.
The wine is wonderful, completely validating a price point that is mildly indulgent for the blue collar set. It tastes tooth dry but is loaded with fresh fruit and fresher cigars. Really, the $25 is an exceptional value. It goes down easily but unrushed, with a moderate structural brace that feels good and sturdy.
Another tremendous discovery was in the Australia aisles. I have confessed in writing to losing out on a world of wine because of a compulsion for the grapes of Spain. With Spanish wine, I know risk little in way of disappointment, but the sure things can cost some beautiful discoveries from other parts of the world. What’s next on my big playlist is Australia. With some occasional evangelism from other writers and drinkers, along with Dad’s stellar Aussie offerings at a number of our barbecues, I have become very exited about Australian wines. I have especially loved the meandering flavours of Joseph’s Creek reds.
The Hedonist is not the most accurate descriptor for the McLaren Vale Shiraz I select. The pleasures within are not at all cheap and showy and shallow. Rather, the wine offers an exquisite complexity on a palate that solidly balances tradition with daring.
To give along with the wine, you may have some difficulty finding a fine art card showing fatherhood. The Mother, well, she is the most painted subject in all of art history. There are tens of thousands of European marvels of the Virgin Mary and Child; in ancient and modern times, themes honouring the mother are a mainstay of aboriginal and African works. But Dad? There’s hardly anything to choose from.
Some might conclude that the paucity of painted images of Dad simply reflects reality, that how they have played out their role has left much to be desired. It’s true, of course, that not everyone has had a Dad, or a saint like mine. But a world full of bad mothers didn’t stop us from seeking her face in art. I wonder if the absence says something about a longstanding absence of our reverence and gratitude for the role. Just as Father’s Day itself is something of an afterthought. It’s probably the least hyped holiday of the year.
Dads have been over-idealized as gods and heroes, and conversely, their authority has been much feared, and these themes have occasionally made it into art and literature. But there is little in way of doting or acknowledgement for how fathers sacrifice their dreams, risk life and limb in dangerous jobs and wars, or just plain toil in tedium.
Perhaps this is the renewed appeal of Norman Rockwell’s enormous library of work. He stayed focused on family life, and family foibles, with an air of gratitude. I think the humour and mild mockery that infuse the work is not simply seen in looking back, that it was intended by the artist. Rockwell studied the old masters intently, but he purposefully injected humour into the idyllic and idealist portrayals. Note, for example, dear old Dad teaching Sonny about The Facts of Life. It was a simple stroke of brilliance to paint a rambunctious carnival of kittens into this work. In another work, showing Mom and Dad tucking in their children, the perfect and safe world depicted is interrupted only if you note the headline on Father’s newspaper: HORROR. And Dad is a little less perfect and a little more Homer Simpsonein another illustration that shows Mother and children all set with gloves and hats and Bibles. Dad is slouching in his chair behind a newspaper, pajamas still on, smoking a cigarette. He is no hurry to get to church.
All these and more can be found in a wonderful volume, Norman Rockwell’s Treasury for Fathers. Dad and I will enjoy many laughs looking through the collection, and then he will fire up the BBQ and I will pour the Shiraz.
Lorette C. Luzajic is a Toronto writer and artist. Her collage-centred paintings use mixed media to explore ideas from art, literature, history and culture, always fascinated by the intersection of human creativities. Exhibition of her work is ongoing throughout Toronto, including such venues as the Spoke Club, the Royal Ontario Museum, the Flying Pony Gallery, Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition, and the Artist Project, and it has been shown in Belfast, Brisbane, Los Angeles, Edinburgh, and beyond. In addition to occasionally writing about her other passions, food and wine, she is the author of more than ten books of poetry, short fiction, and essays, including Funny Stories About Depression, Fascinating Artists, and Kilodney Does Shakespeare. She is the editor of the new online journal, Ekphrastic. Visit her at mixedupmedia.ca. Photo by Ralph Martin.