United Nations, 1953
Pencil and charcoal on paper
Collection of The Norman Rockwell Art Collection Trust
"This piece by Norman Rockwell of The UN was a huge influence on a great many of the covers I’ve done. Particularly the covers for the Kingdom Come series and subsequently the trade collection covers for the Justice series. And this aesthetic was very popular for me because the impact of the Kingdom Come series reverberated quite a bit in my career and so the graphic simplicity of this composition is something that I’ve not wanted to go back to the well too many times with, but I have in certain circumstances. I waited between the project Kingdom Come and the series Justice a good number of years before I repeated this graphic approach."
"What impacted me so strongly here was the flatness of the composition in imagining all these people swapped out for superheroes, which I did, there’s something very powerful to that. Something too that I engaged with from how this particular pencil piece worked, is that the foreground figures of the United Nations members are lit by some kind of overhead light which separates them from the background figures. And on the Kingdom Come series, I would do with a central figure who would be the foreground focus figure – for the first issue it was The Spectre, that’s the painting that should be on display here in the show – and all of the figures behind him recede with an under lighting effect. And since there are a few of the pieces by Rockwell with the same compositional style, like the Golden Rule painting, and there are a couple of others he did like this, they had a similar kind of effect. One of which in fact had a bit of that under lighting that made me think ‘Oh yeah, this is definitely the way to go’. And it would be a creepy kind of effect of lighting, but it also had a way of illuminating subjects where it felt very realistic in a way that would help me get across the idea of wanting to render these fantastic characters realistically. I wanted you to believe them. I wanted you to look at them and believe that they could be real, but also legitimate too. That the idea of being real people was not devoid of the fantasy that they were also embracing – that the two things seemed utterly understandable and realistic.
"This amongst all Rockwell works was one of the most impactful [sic] for me and transformative of all of the ways in which he’s influenced me, but virtually the whole career of Rockwell has made an impact on all the work that I do."
United Nations is a charcoal study that Rockwell intended to be the basis for a 10-foot-long mural to be hung in the United Nations building in New York. However, Rockwell became disinterested in the project and left the work unfinished. He would later apply facets of the aborted United Nations project into one of his most famous works, The Golden Rule.
Alex Ross was heavily influenced by the works of Norman Rockwell. Rockwell's impact was so great that the lighting and composition of works like Rockwell's United Nations, The Golden Rule, and The Right to Know form the basis of the covers of Ross's comic book series Kingdom Come and Justice.