Sunday, August 16, 2015

EXHIBITION: Roz Chast's "Cartoon Memoirs" delights at the Norman Rockwell Museum

All images ©Roz Chast, unless otherwise noted

There are some artists who move us with their wisdom and unique perspective, and others who amuse us with their wit. Some uplift us with their humanity, or perplex us with their inscrutability. It's the rare artist who succeeds in doing all of these at once. One of them is New Yorker cartoonist and author Roz Chast, whose prolific output is currently on display at the Norman  Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass. Cartoon Memoirs, on view at the NRM through October 26, 2015, is simply a "mustn't miss" show, and the Rockwell Museum is a lovely summer or autumn destination.

Roz Chast at book signing, following a most entertaining talk about her life & career
Stockbridge Mass., July 9, 2015
Photo by Michael Schonbach

Above is the first Roz Chast cartoon I ever saw, 
published in her 1984 book Parallel Universes
I knew from that moment that I had found a kindred spirit.

Chast brought her first submission, a portfolio of sixty 
drawings, to the New Yorker in 1978. Much to her surprise, Little Things 
was chosen for publication by the cartoons editor. (Some regular readers 
were appalled, and one inquired whether the magazine owed money to Chast's family!)

Over the years, Chast's cartoons have become one of the most beloved features of the magazine. Some of her favorite subjects are greeting cards, book jackets, UFO's, 
gizmos, room interiors, creepy medical conditions, tombstones, 
and -- of course -- family dysfunction.

Her images are filled with a barely controlled hysteria that seamlessly mixes
madcap humor and all-too-relatable anxiety in equal measure. What fun it was to 
wander through the Norman Rockwell Museum, and hear peals of laughter 
coming from all the rooms of the special exhibition!

The exhibition also includes some of Chast's hooked rugs and Ukrainian Easter eggs, 
(pysanky), with which she says she was "obsessed" for a couple of years.

Hello, 2015
hand-hooked rug, wool, burlap

Some awfully cute pysanky

"With their brilliant colors, rendered smooth and glossy by a polyurethane topcoat, Ms. Chast's eggs are extraordinarily lovely -- glorious jewel-toned objects whose aesthetic 
lies somewhere between Fabergé and Dr. Seuss."
... NY Times, November 2004

Chast's first New Yorker cover, above, was published in 1986.
She sees it as a "family tree" of ice cream. (Her father thought it 
portrayed a doctor pointing out foods that should never, ever be eaten.)


She has penned more than 1000 drawings and numerous covers for the New Yorker over the past thirty years. Above left is a representation of her hand painted pysanky collection. Above right: some fantastical seed packets.

And ... ta da ... The Book!

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, Chast's graphic memoir of growing up in Brooklyn as the only child of hypochondriac, affection-withholding parents, and eventually caring for them during their declining years, is an instant classic. Among many, many awards and accolades, the book was selected as one of The New York Times Book  Review’s 10 Best Books of 2014. 

The full contents of Can't We Talk ... are displayed, page by page, 
in a single room at the NRM exhibition. 
You can read the NY Times review here.
The Guardian's review is here.

"The Wheel of Doom", a major laugh-getter at the exhibition,
was originally rejected by the New Yorker for publication in the magazine.
Chast spoke briefly about the rejection that cartoonists - even famous ones - must endure.
"If there's ANYTHING else you can do for a living besides this," she joked, "DO IT!"

You can see a video of Roz Chast's talk at the Norman Rockwell Museum here.

For more information about Roz Chast's 12 other books, link here.

That's all, folks!
~ JP

~ oOo ~


  1. Roz Chast artwork, in color on adorable Easter eggs? I'm going!
    The hooked rugs make me wonder...might she create a sweater pattern for her fans who knit? Be still, my beating heart!
    Thank you for inspiring me to get some culture and have some fun,
    Ann Marie

  2. Hi Ann Marie,
    Thanks for your wonderful comment! I don't know about a sweater pattern for RC's fans who knit, but she certainly loves to do hooked rugs and other textiles. So ... maybe? some day ... The eggs are indeed adorable! Oh, and consider yourself a winner of the notebook packet from Princeton Architectural Press. (I'll be in touch with the other two winners: Nathan Gurvitch (for at least TRYING, more than once, to leave a comment), and Mr. Anonymous (I know who he is). Hope you make it to the exhibition. The drive is only an hour from Noho. ~ JP