Studio notes from the contemporary painter Gregg Chadwick.
Tuesday, February 14, 2017
The Heroic Ruby Bridges
by Gregg Chadwick
The Problem We All Live With
36” x 58” oil on canvas 1963
Collection The Norman Rockwell Museum
With the insensitive political cartoon posted today by Glenn McCoy lampooning Civil Rights icon Ruby Bridges, I again am drawn to think about this iconic Norman Rockwell painting. The Problem We All Live With depicts Ruby as a young girl on her way to first grade after the school board mandated the desegregation of two New Orleans schools in 1960. Six year old Ruby Bridges was escorted by Federal Marshals to New Orleans' William Frantz Public School as its first African American student, ushering in the integration of the local public school system. Painted in 1963 when young Ruby's courage was still becoming global news, Rockwell created a cinematic scene that brings the viewer directly into the moment. We must ask ourselves - do we walk with Ruby and help protect her? Or are we the howling mob tossing rotten produce and fierce epithets at this brave girl?
Norman Rockwell's The Problem We All Live With hung in the West Wing of the White House outside of the Oval Office until October 31, 2011 during President Obama's first term. Ruby Bridges visited the White House on July 15, 2011 to view Rockwell's painting with the president. Norman Rockwell faced harsh criticism by some when his painting first appeared as the cover illustration on Look magazine's January 14,1964 issue. Over time, the painting has become a defining artwork in the continual struggle for human rights for all.
President Barack Obama, Ruby Bridges, and representatives of the Norman Rockwell Museum view Rockwell’s "The Problem We All Live With,” hanging in a West Wing hallway near the Oval Office, July 15, 2011.
Santa Monica-based artist Gregg Chadwick has been painting for three decades. His current studio is an old airplane hangar where the flurry of takeoffs and landings on the runway outside seems to creep into Chadwick’s paintings as he explores movement and travel within his light-filled paintings. His current series of paintings is entitled ‘Mystery Train’ and evokes the railways of America that Chadwick says run in his blood. His grandfather worked as a fireman, stoking coal in steam engines before advancing to train engineer on the Jersey Central Line. Chadwick often says that family gatherings brought the rhythms of the rails home. The sounds of railroad workers echoed in the music that Chadwick’s relatives played in the shadows of the train lines outside. For Chadwick and many others such as writer Greil Marcus, filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, and musicians Junior Parker and Elvis Presley, the enduring mythos of America and its legacy is wrapped in the blues notes of the song ‘Mystery Train’
Chadwick's thoughts on the intersection of art, culture, and politics can be found on his blog, Speed of Life.
Chadwick's flickr page which is often updated with new finished paintings and work in progress is at: