Thursday, July 31, 2008

Rockwell Kent : The Art of Empathy

Rockwell Kent was a proud man to the point of hubris. He also was cad and probably a communist, yet he had a singular vision: one of empowerment for the common man. He felt the transcendent and the humane in all people. Rockwell Kent-The Art of the Bookplate by Don Roberts ©2003, Fair Oaks Press/San Francisco, traces the life and career of this famous artist. The author catalogues and uncovers the stories behind the bookplates illustrated by Kent, and how each bookplate merged the owner's claim to the book with the owner's own personality and aspirations. Kent explains, "The theft of a book is more nearly homicide than larceny. Books are not things; they're people multiplied. The possession of a book is both the promise of a richer life and, in degree, the sign of its fulfillment."

Rockwell Kent (1882-1971) is best known for his illustrations for Moby Dick and his travels as artist-adventurer to Alaska, Greenland and Tierra del Fuego, where he painted, wrote and illustrated stories of the rogues he met and vistas he spied. His books, Voyaging and N by E were bestsellers. Ross' book chronicles the personal and creative vagaries of the artist's life in all its joy and tragedy. Kent ran through wives and houses, but the 160 bookplates he created were his most consistent art making. It was an art that kept him connected to people and not gallivanting about. Over time, his fame and desire for his art diminished. In 1929, he earned $500 for a bookplate commission. By 1965, he was lucky to receive $25. Many graphic artists may relate to the stories of Kent's creative process, the haggling over prices with clients, the diminishing prices, image theft and the sacrificing of life for art. We can feel the vitality and the contemporary in these stories In fact; nothing is really new anymore.

Especially poignant are Kent's endeavors to know deeply who the person is and put that in the bookplate. Often that person's psychology is symbolized in the image of a human figure against a dramatic and light-infused landscape. He empathized with the their life and passion for books. It's how I feel about the weekly Bay Folk drawings I did for the San Francisco Chronicle. When you draw someone and tell their story, it's a blessing you bestow on them.


Lew Jaffe said...

Have you completed any bookplates in the Bay Folks Style? If yes ,I would be delighted to post them on my bookplate blog.


Bill Russell said...

Hi Lew,

I might have a couple of bookplates in my scratchboard style...not the Bay Folk style. I'll have a look.

Thanks for your comment.