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The Anti-Norman Rockwell

Article Published: May. 24, 2012 | Modified: May. 24, 2012
The Anti-Norman Rockwell

Bob Trotman delivers a lecture last Thursday in BRAHM’s community meeting room.
Photos by Jeff Eason

In his attempt to convey the uncertainty, duplicity and constant fear present in American lives, sculptor Bob Trotman considers himself to be the anti-Norman Rockwell.

“I always preferred Edward Hopper to Norman Rockwell,” Trotman said last week at a presentation at the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum.

The event marked BRAHM’s first Third Thursday lecture of 2012 and the first one to be held in the new museum in downtown Blowing Rock.

“Rockwell’s is a sweetened version of America,” Trotman said. “He emphasizes faith, authority and discipline. I guess that’s why he was the official artist of the Boy Scouts of America.”

In Trotman’s work, a dystopian (the opposite of utopian) vision of adult lives is portrayed, one where doubt supplants authority.

“My sculptures are anti-monumental,” he said. “There are no heroes. They are alienated and awkward. They are people who have tripped over the invisible chains of authority.”

Trotman’s unique sculptures are, for the most part, nearly life-sized human forms made of wood. He painstakingly carves them and then places in them in strange positions as if they are falling or tripping.

“I love the history of wooden figures,” Trotman said. “They have historically been used in churches or on the front of sailing ships. In the 19th century, wooden Indians and other figures were used by merchants to stimulate commerce. I feel my figures are directly descended from these wooden figures and from puppets and statues.”

Trotman said in last week’s lecture that he is a follower of what he calls “rational skepticism.”

“It is that doubt that moves art and science forward,” he said. “Doubt is the very thing that makes us human.”

During a slide show, Trotman showed the audience his creative process, from initial sketch to final installation.

“I start with an idea, and then I draw it as a sketch,” Trotman said. “From there, I make a small terra cotta ‘mockette’ that is seven or eight inches long. I do that because clay is very forgiving. My process is very labor intensive, but it seems to work for me.”

Trotman uses both artists’ puppets and mannequins as models for his wooden sculptures.

“The mannequins are indispensable because I can put clothes on them and find out how they are going to wrinkle when the figure is in one position or another,” he said.

For the faces of the sculptures, Trotman takes multiple photos of his friends, family and even himself to give the heads a living character.

“Lately, I’ve been exaggerating some facial features to make the figures look like they are moving forward,” Trotman said. “The out-of-proportion aspects of them add an emotional impact.”

Trotman explained to the group at BRAHM that he started his career as a furniture maker. His works began to become more and more artistic, albeit functional. Then, one day, he decided that the artistic side of sculpting wood was what he wanted to pursue full time.

“My background as a furniture maker comes in handy when it comes to putting the pieces of my sculptures together,” Trotman said.

Like a large piece of furniture, Trotman’s sculptures are made in pieces that are put together to form a whole. He decorates them with water-based paint, so that viewers can see the wood grain. He even allows the wood to dry and crack in places.

Recently, the North Carolina Museum of Art commissioned a new Trotman sculpture, a seven-and-one-half-foot man who appears to be falling from the ceiling of the museum’s gallery.

In BRAHM’s current “Curious Collections” exhibit, two early Trotman pieces are on display, from 1984 and 1995. They are on loan from the permanent collection of Bill and Judy Watson.

Trotman’s work can also be found in the permanent collections of museums across the East Coast, including the Weatherspoon Museum of Art, the Museum of Art and Design in New York, and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

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