I think this is so cool. Just one thing though…. If his father was mixed-race himself, how is it possible for Mr. Claiborne to be half black? Don’t get me wrong, I am not questioning his personal identity. I would love to have a conversation with him about it. About how he came to that conclusion. I used to think that if I could make “half black” kids. Then one day I realized that… I can’t.
A Rockwell Illustrating a Street-Lit World
By COREY KILGANNON
When Jason Claiborne was a third grader at Public School 187 in Washington Heights, the teacher scolded him for drawing a picture of a naked woman.
“Jason stood up and told the teacher, ‘I come from a family of artists and we have nude paintings on the wall,’ ” recalled his mother, Jane Jaffe, 65, whose father was Richard Rockwell, an artist and a nephew of the famous illustrator Norman Rockwell.
That would make Norman Rockwell — who was born 116 years ago on Feb. 3 — a great-great-uncle to Jason Claiborne, a 33-year-old artist living in Inwood, Manhattan.
If one were to have preconceptions about what a relative of Norman Rockwell would be like, Mr. Claiborne might not match them.
First of all, he is, as he calls it, “half black,” being the product of Ms. Jaffe’s second marriage, to a mixed-race man named Mario Claiborne. Jason Claiborne did not grow up in middle America, but rather in Washington Heights.
Like Rockwell, who died in 1978, Mr. Claiborne makes his living illustrating book and magazine covers. But Mr. Claiborne does not sit at a spindly easel painting sentimental portraits of white-bread middle Americana. He uses a computer to illustrate the covers publications that fall into the so-called street lit genre of publishing: urban tales of city dwellers who deal in guns, drugs, gangs and vice. The characters (and readers, largely) tend to be people of color.
“Norman documented middle America, and I’m documenting the ’hood,” said Mr. Claiborne, president and creative director for Augustus Publishing, which puts out books with titles such as “Ghetto Girls” and “Streets of New York.”
Authors include former prison inmates and gang members, and Mr. Claiborne provides the brash cover art that is more hustlers and hip-hop than the hobos and homespun scenes of “Saturday Evening Post” covers.
“A lot of Norman Rockwell illustrations can be seen as Polaroid images of the American dream,” Mr. Claiborne said. “I’m showing an American dream that’s not as pretty.”
…“Norman drew life as he experienced it, and like him, Jason draws from his personal life experience,” Ms. Jaffe said. “Norman would not be averse to the way Jason’s doing, because Norman was always ahead of his time as well.”
Richard Rockwell — whose father was Jarvis Rockwell, brother of Norman Rockwell — became a notable illustrator for comics and a courtroom illustrator, before dying in 2006. Richard’s daughter Jane Rockwell (later, Jane Jaffe) became a noted dancer and actor and Radio City Rockette, before becoming a lawyer and eventually taking her current position as an administrative law judge for New York State, in Brooklyn.
Mr. Claiborne has been painting on canvas since childhood. His mother raised him as a single parent, and he developed a close bond with Richard Rockwell and spent much time in Richard’s house surrounded by Norman Rockwell’s art and watching Richard Rockwell sketch. Richard Rockwell drew for many comic strips, including the Steve Canyon series for more than 30 years. He was also a prominent courtroom sketch artist, and several of his sketches hang on Mr. Claiborne’s walls.
Ms. Jaffe noted the significance of having an interracial descendant carrying on the Rockwell artistic mantle.
“When my father was on his deathbed, Jason whispered in his ear that he would keep the Rockwell creative juices flowing,” she said.
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