Alex Ross at NRM: A Comic Book Coming Home
The Norman Rockwell Museum’s upcoming exhibition, Heroes and Villains, is going to be pretty super. Opening on Saturday, November 10, it gives more than the usual space to the career of illustrator Alex Ross, best known for his work with DC and Marvel Comics and perhaps the most important superhero comic book artist of the last twenty years. The exhibit is also one of the Stockbridge institution’s most modern. Organized by the The Andy Warhol Museum of Pittsburgh, Heroes and Villains features more than 130 pieces arrayed in four galleries, extending from Ross’s pre-career crayon drawings to some of his most recent work with Dynamite Entertainment (the limited edition Avengers/Invaders series), and original artwork specifically made for the Rockwell Museum.
Best known for his work with the most current Superman incarnation, Ross’s compactly vibrant designs for covers and interior panels have elevated the medium back to the level of Roy Lichtenstein and Warholian 1960s Pop Art, minus the irony and ambiguity. Born in Portland, Oregon in 1970, Ross was originally introduced to the world of superheroes watching a Spiderman cartoon series on TV as a young child. Later, while studying at the American Academy of Art in Chicago, he met the likes of Rockwell, Salvador Dali, and J.C. Leyendecker (an illustrator who built his career on beautiful magazine covers and interiors), all of whom greatly inspired his decision to go into the comic book business. After graduation, Ross rose to prominence in the early 1990s at Marvel, the leading creator and producer of the genre, where he was given space to develop his own distinct style – detailed photorealistic depictions that give bold colored expression to the fantastical world created there. Superman’s chiseled jaw, Batman’s piercing stare all have real world imperfections that make the heroes’ personalities and plights hard to erase from the mind. Stan Lee, creator of Spider-Man, the Hulk, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four, and the man who expanded Marvel from a small division of a publishing house to a large multimedia corporation, sums up Ross’ artistic achievement. “Never before, not until Alex Ross, had the Marvel universe seemed quite so undeniably authentic, so unquestionably credible, so eminently compelling.”
The show at the museum is a kind of spiritual coming home. Guests to the exhibit, the opening of which Ross himself will be attending, will be captivated by Ross’s striking depictions of iconic characters such as The X- Men and Wonder Woman, influenced not by Warhol or Lichtenstein so much as by Rockwell himself. (Original work of Rockwell’s will be featured, as well as those by comic book illustrator Andrew Loomis and Warhol. ) Also on display is a selection from Warhol’s vast comic book collection as well as the art work of mother Lynn Ross, a commercial artist who had a great deal of influence on her creative son. Premiering at the exhibit will be a new painting by Ross, that of Rockwell himself. In a way, it’s all more than just an art show but a family reunion of grand pop proportions. —Rachel Louchen