In North Carolina, Norman Rockwell Meets Karl Marx

Bob Trotman is a philosophy major from Washington & Lee who turned to fine furniture-making after teaching school in Virginia.

Now, 30 years later, the Winston-Salem native lives in the foothills of North Carolina, working solely as a sculptor dedicated to making wry and poignant commentaries on corporate America.

He works in soft white linden and poplar native to Carolina, carving it into ironic sculptures laden with messages of enigmatic and ambiguous irony.

“He’s saying that life might seem perfect, but underneath there’s turmoil, flux and change,” says Linda Dougherty, chief curator of contemporary art at the North Carolina Museum of Art.  “Don’t be too satisfied or too certain, because at any moment you can lose your moorings and the ground can shift.  There’s the idea that a sense of stability is false.”

His aptly named “Inverted Utopias” exhibit will open at the NCMA on November 7, running concurrently with a Norman Rockwell exhibit through January 30, 2011.

The two artists could not view the world more differently.

“I’m trying to present a wooden world to the viewer that’s something like Norman Rockwell but with a large dose of Karl Marx and Franz Kafka,” Trotman says.  “I’m not a big admirer of Rockwell.  He said he portrayed life as he wished it were – his view of life is much more sweetened than the real thing.”

All chains of authority are in place with Rockwell’s work, while Trotman works hard to present a populist vocabulary.  “Rockwell endorsed institutional values,” he says.  “My view is to criticize them.”

The oldest piece in the show, “Swan Dive,” on loan from the Sydney and Frances Lewis Collection, recalls the graceful, forward-thrusting sculptures once attached to prows of sailing ships.

“A Charlotte art critic called my work ‘figureheads on a clipper ship bound for purgatory,’” he says. 

But really, it has to do with power, and pulling the rug out from people who might occupy positions of power.

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