Noel Rockmore (1928–1995), born Noel Davis, was the son of established New York City artist-intellectuals Floyd Davis and Gladys Rockmore Davis, whose famous friends included Ira and George Gershwin and Ernest Hemingway. A child prodigy in both art and music, he devoted himself to painting after a bout of polio; by age eleven, he was a proficient artist. Rockmore intended to further his studies at the legendary Art Students League in New York. However, he left after one week, preferring to teach himself. This effort was successful. By the time he was thirty years old, Life magazine had published a feature on his work and his paintings had been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, and he was represented by a New York City art dealer.
Rockmore embraced representationalism in his art, shunning the Abstract Expressionist style which prevailed in New York City at the time. In 1959, frustrated with the New York art scene, Rockmore moved to New Orleans and changed his surname from Davis to Rockmore, adopting his mother’s maiden name to the dismay of his parents and New York City art dealer. Seeking to “dwell in creative obscurity,” Rockmore embraced the unique architecture, colorful inhabitants, and bohemian lifestyle of the city and became a frequenter of the French Quarter.
In New Orleans, he worked through many mediums and styles to find his personal aesthetic; he drew from a deep knowledge of art history as well as his own skill, emotions, and dreams. He often created series of works based around a central subject. With the encouragement of art dealer E. Lorenz “Larry” Borenstein, Rockmore worked on a series of portraits of jazz musicians at Preservation Hall in the French Quarter.
This painting is one in a series painted onsite at the “ship graveyards” along the New Orleans Industrial Canal. Rockmore gained permission to enter restricted areas where disused vessels were being cut up for scrap metal. The Ship Graveyeard series reflects Rockmore’s growing obsession with mortality and humanity’s decline.
Noel Rockmore, Ship Graveyard, 1964. Acrylic on canvas, 20 x 40 inches. Gift of E. Lorenz “Larry” Borenstein. Louisiana Art & Science Museum Collection, 1974.035.001
Rockmore was a talented portrait artist, known for capturing the psychological complexities of his subject, if not always their exact likeness. When patrons were displeased, Rockmore’s art dealer customarily offered to keep the portrait and have another redone at no charge.