Do you feel like we are intruding? This surrealist inspired painting sure doesn’t seem like it wants us to understand what exactly is going on. The artist, Noel Rockmore wasn’t very well understood in his own lifetime either. After a promising early career exhibiting in places like the Museum of Modern Art, Rockmore was soon overshadowed by Abstract Expressionist painters like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. He settled in New Orleans where he became a local favorite portraying figures from the thriving jazz scene. However, he struggled with a variety of interpersonal issues and despite producing an estimated 15,000 works, died in relative obscurity. It wasn’t until decades later, when over 1,500 of his works were rediscovered in a storage unit following the destruction of Hurricane Katrina, that the quality and scope of his work came into prominence.
In this painting, Rockmore painted his sister, with whom he had recently moved in with following the death of both of their parents less than a year earlier. The imagery unravels from the here-and-now of a domestic interior near the bottom of the canvas to an expansive landscape in the middle ground before extending up into the cosmos above. Alongside this, the chaotic mix of colors, textures, and perspectives, work together to create a powerful sense of dislocation, perhaps suggesting the wandering minds of those depicted. But is it Noel’s sister Deborah whose mind wonders, or is it “Ma cat,” who simultaneously basks in the scents spread around their surroundings while luxuriating in the sensations of the textured fabrics and gentle caressings that enfold them?