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Illustrator Lorraine Nam Brings Her Signature Visual Storytelling to the Holidays at Rockefeller Center

By Julie Smith SchneiderNov 22 2022
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Cue the twinkling lights, the holiday season has arrived. For illustrator Lorraine Nam, though, the winter has been in the air and filling her creative workspaces since summertime. While putting the finishing touches on her illustrations for a new picture book — Wei Skates On by Olympic figure skater Nathan Chen — in August, she started making a joyful new body of artwork to deck the halls of Rockefeller Center.

Opening November 14, just after the arrival of this year’s 82-foot-tall Christmas Tree, the new exhibition ushers in the holiday season in Midtown. Displayed on vinyl murals and lightboxes, as well as inside a trio of diorama-like vitrines, Nam’s buoyant illustrations feature children donning cozy winter wear and emanating joy while dancing among balloons, candy canes, and firework-like bursts of warm, radiant colors. The figures leap and pirouette all around campus, from The Rink to Top of the Rock. “I wanted to capture the feeling of the holidays: this buzzy energy that you get, this excitement,” Nam says. “And you can't help but dance.”

To explore the installation, you can wander in and out of the Rockefeller Center’s buildings on a festive treasure hunt of sorts. How many dance styles do you spot? Do you see Roxy the owl swooping through the frames? Pop inside 10 Rockefeller Plaza, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, 50 Rockefeller Plaza, Top of the Rock, and the street and The Rink Levels of 45 Rockefeller Plaza, and roam outside Rockefeller Plaza, too. Among the city scenes, you’ll find hidden gems with secret references, including two characters performing a Rockettes-style dance that Nam modeled after herself and her partner, painter Jonathan Chapline. And the couple’s miniature poodle, Phthalo, named for the brilliant shade of blue paint, prances in a cherry-red dog sweater with a pair of reindeer antlers on his head. 

Nam says she hopes viewers have fun and maybe even record TikTok dances in front of her lively new works. With a diverse mix of jubilant young people moving and grooving through her illustrations, Nam brings a sort of dance party to the walls and halls of the Center.  “I wanted to show different types of kids with different types of hairstyles, all bundled up for the holidays and for the cold,” Nam says. To her, the holiday season is about togetherness. “Everyone wants… to see the Tree at Rockefeller Center [and] be among people who are as equally excited to see the Tree and be a part of that same tradition.”

A map depicting Rockefeller Center’s iconic holiday sights and shops also accompanies the installation. With a playful palette anchored in rosy reds and sunny yellows, Nam’s design honors classic seasonal traditions and notable spots with a fresh spin. Cheerful illustrations fill the grid of city blocks, including a Lego character grinning beside a Lego tree, skaters making looping lines on a pink rendition of The Rink, and a noodle-twirled fork at Jupiter. On the bottom edge, a double-decker sightseeing bus rolls by with scarf-clad kids on the upper level looking skyward. The souvenir map — the fifth annual edition — is available for free in building lobbies, at the Top of the Rock shop, and The Rink skate hut, as well as from Rockefeller Center shops.

Growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia with parents who run a jewelry business, Nam says she always wanted to live in New York City one day. And, in 2010, after graduating from Rhode Island School of Art and Design with a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts in Illustration, she followed her dream and moved to Brooklyn. She spent a few years working a 9-to-5 job designing textiles while working on personal art projects on the side in her Bushwick studio, exploring her passion for paper and all its possibilities for transformation.

When her day job presented her with two options: move with the company to Milwaukee or leave her job, she chose the latter and started pursuing illustration full-time. She has worked with her clients — including HarperCollins, Michaels, Kazoo magazine, The Washington Post, NBC, Facebook, Snapchat, Eater, Tumblr, Country Living, Cooper Hewitt, Lufthansa, The Wing, and Milk Bar — on various commercial and editorial projects. For her first illustrated children's book Look Up with Me, written by Jennifer Berne, Nam’s signature cut-paper illustrations and sculptures tell astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson’s life story. Her body of work also includes cover art for other books, as well as animated GIFs.

Bringing her work to Rockefeller Center is a chance for Nam to bring her typically small-scale work into a larger format for a broader audience, in a space that's part of her own annual winter rituals. Raised Buddhist, all the trappings of Christmas aren't part of her family’s traditions, but gathering with loved ones to share a big meal and exchange gifts is — and the concept of a variety of folks getting together is reflected in Nam’s new series. “Through this project, I wanted to celebrate the people of New York, the people who live here [and] work here, and the people visiting who all make the holidays feel so alive and special,” Nam says. “Visiting the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree has been a yearly tradition ever since I moved to New York, and to be able to bring this project to life here is an absolute dream.”

Lorraine Nam’s artwork is on view around the Rockefeller Center campus from November 14 through January 13, 2023. This installation is part of Art in Focus, a series of art exhibitions produced in partnership with Art Production Fund.

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