Feature Stories

Conversation with… Roz Chast

Exhibit at Normal Rockwell Museum Highlights Career
of Celebrated “New Yorker” Artist

By Stacey Dresner

Photo by Bill Franzen

The exhibit, “Roz Chast: Cartoon Memoirs” is on display at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge through Oct. 26.

Unknown-1The exhibit features original drawings and paintings by Chast from her 37 years as a cartoonist for the New Yorker, her book illustrations, as well as 120 original drawings from her 2014 award-winning graphic memoir, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? which deals with the struggles of dealing with aging parents. The book won “best autobiography” from the National Book Critics Circle, as well as recognition as a National Book Award finalist for non-fiction and “outstanding cartoonist of the year” from the National Cartoonists Society. She has also received the prestigious Heinz Award for her “uncompromising” vision and creativity.

A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Chast, who now resides in Ridgefield, is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design. Besides The New Yorker, her cartoons have also been published in Scientific American, the Harvard Business Review, Redbook, and Mother Jones. Her most recent book is Theories of Everything: Selected, Collected, and Health-Inspected Cartoons of Roz Chast, 1978-2006, a compilation of her favorite cartoons. She also illustrated The Alphabet from A to Y, with Bonus Letter, Z, a best-selling children’s book by Steve Martin.

“The art of Norman Rockwell and other illustration masters helps reflect and define who we are as a people,” said Norman Rockwell Museum Director/CEO, Laurie Norton Moffatt. “Roz Chast’s artwork reminds us, with humor, of our frailties and vulnerabilities, as Rockwell often did.”

Chast recently discussed her work and the exhibit with the Jewish Ledger.

Q: Did you always want to be a cartoonist? And why cartoons as opposed to other art forms?

A: Yes, I always loved to draw and the drawings came out funny. I always liked things that made me laugh. As for why cartoons, I like the way cartoons combine the visual and the verbal. And the humor, which for me is important.

Q: Do you recall the first cartoon you ever created?

A: This isn’t necessarily the first, but I remember drawing a sequential cartoon about two birds making cookies. I think I was around five.

Q: What was your first cartoon in the New Yorker and what was it like seeing your work there?

A: It was called “Little Things.” It was a combination of pride and excruciating embarrassment. This hasn’t changed.

Q: What do you enjoy most about being a cartoonist…What is your goal in your work?

A: If I draw something that makes me laugh, that’s the best. I guess that’s the goal.

Q: How did the book Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? come about?

A: The process of dealing with my parents at the ends of their lives was emotionally resonant in so many ways. Heartbreaking, frustrating, surprising, loving, hilarious, boring, deeply upsetting, disgusting, enraging, just plain weird, you name it. I proposed it to my editor and over the next few years, it gradually came together.

Q: How is the work in this book different from your other cartoons?

A: It’s completely personal, for one thing. Also, it’s an extended narrative, not just one or two pages.

Q: Did you hope that this book would help other children and their elderly parents deal with tough issues surrounding aging and death?

A: Not really. I didn’t think about that. Though I’m glad if it does help people feel that they’re not the only ones going through it.

Q: Does Judaism ever come into play in your work?

A: Judaism has a history of self-deprecating humor, as opposed to the humor of watching someone else slip on a banana peel. Not that I wouldn’t find that funny, because I would. Big time. But I think my work probably leans towards self-deprecation.

Q: Your work is now on exhibit at the Normal Rockwell Museum.  What can people expect to see and what do you hope they learn about your work and the art form of cartoons from it?

A: They’ll see cartoons from The New Yorker, as well as cartoons from a few other publications. They’ll also see the original drawings from several books I’ve done. Also, they mounted about two-thirds of the pages from Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? Also displayed are Pysanky eggs that I made, and some hooked rugs that I made. And some other interesting stuff. It’s a wonderful exhibit – they did a fantastic job. I think seeing original drawings of stuff that was published is interesting – you can see how complex they are. Almost all of the pages from the memoir are patched and repatched and glued. You can see all the mistakes and the corrections. I think it lets the viewer in a little more on the process in a way you can’t see in the finished product.

For more information about “Roz Chast: Cartoon Memoirs” at the Norman Rockwell Museum, call (413) 931-2264.



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