Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Wyeth Perspective

Some years back I was fortunate enough to squeeze into an exhibition at Tokyo’s Bunkamura Museum of Art to see a retrospective of American painter Andrew Wyeth. ‘Squeeze in’ is the apt picture because Tokyo art exhibitions by name artists, either Japanese, European or American are always a matter of lining up and then eventually getting a look at the work over the shoulders of the dozens in front of you. Even on an afternoon in mid-week, the lines and crowd are still there, and jostling shoulders is part of the experience. Such was the atmosphere of my visit to see the Wyeth exhibition, though not distraction enough to dull my pleasure in seeing the artist’s work.

Andrew Wyeth was born in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania in 1917. Over the next ninety-one years he became one of the most well-known American artists of the twentieth century. His subjects were the land and the people around him, at both Chadds Ford and in Cushing, Maine where he had a summer home. Wyeth was a realist painter who worked for the most part in what is known as regionalism—a move away from cities with focus on rural life. The young Wyeth learned to draw before he could read and began to study with his father, a painter of considerable reputation, in his teenage years. He held his first one-man exhibition at the age of twenty at the Macbeth Gallery in New York. He sold every painting in the show. For the next fifty years he divided his time between Pennsylvania and Maine, continuing to produce realist paintings in the regionalist style. Wyeth avoided oil paints and worked instead in egg tempura and watercolor.

Christina Olsen (1947) Tempura • Comments by the artist: ‘One day I saw her (Olsen) on the back door step in the late afternoon…she was sitting quietly, with a far-off look to the sea. At the time I thought she looked like a wounded seagull with her bony arms, slightly long hair back over her shoulder and strange shadows of her cast on the side of that weathered door, which had this white porcelain knob on it…’

Maga’s Daughter (1966) Tempura • Comments by Wyeth: ‘I left for Washington one morning and Betsy (wife and subject of this painting) got furious, really flew into a rage. All the way down I kept thinking of that color rising up high into her cheeks. I knew I had captured her. The color of those cheeks under her coal black hair and that hat gives the portrait a real edge…What makes this, is that odd, flat Quaker hat and the wonderful teardrop ribbons and those flushed cheeks. She could be a Quaker girl who’s just come in from riding.’

Distant Thunder (1961) Tempura • Wyeth: ‘I had wanted to paint my wife Betsy picking blueberries. I completed a number of drawings, but nothing worked. I really struggled but got nowhere. Until I decided to hide. I sneaked along the edge of the woods and found her sleeping. I made a quick drawing. As I finished I could here thunder way off…The sky had that yellowish cast before big storms. All of a sudden I realized there was too much face. I painted in the hat…’

Pumpkins (1969) Watercolor on paper • Comments: ‘This was executed at Erickson’s house…He grew a lot of pumpkins. I painted a few pictures of pumpkins. But after I saw all the pumpkins that other people did, I stopped painting them…Imitators quickly take the charisma out of it.’

1 comment:

  1. This post made me drag down 'Christina's World'--a huge volume of Wyeth's drawing and paintings of a neighbor he painted over the years. And although we didn't know it at the time, those early boyhood adventure novels--'Treasure Island' and the like--were illustrated by his father, N.C. Wyeth. Such master artists they were.


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America