Andrew Wyeth viewed his work as abstract, the realism just happened to be his style. Sadly, this great iconographic figure of contemporary American painting died in his sleep on Friday, January 16th at his home in Chadds Ford, PA. This New York Times Obituary by Michael Kimmelman gives a very good overview.
I was very saddened to hear this news. I’ve always been spellbound by Andrew Wyeth’s art, in fact N.C. Wyeth’s too (his father’s — illustrative quality and luminous color), and I’m coming around to Jamie’s (his son’s — a little too macabre for me, however, yet quite talented like his forefathers, nonetheless).
This news makes the art trip that I took to Maine in the summer of 2007, all the more meaningful and memorable. I remember we were on a ferry going to Monhegan Island, a fantastic artist’s haven, and as we passed by a small island, a man sitting on some beach rocks sketching started waving at us. It was Andrew Wyeth. His family had owned the island for years and it was his escape away from the public, yet he happily waved to our boatload of strangers from a distance. I was struck by his gesture of congeniality.
I’ve always been intrigued by his painting — his ability to render such fine, exceptional detail and his economy of expression which leaves an overall sense of mystery to his work. We had an opportunity on that trip to visit the Olson house in Cushing where he did many paintings such as Christina’s World and Wind from the Sea (both below).
A little side note that we learned while visiting…You may notice that Christina’s fingers are somewhat blue. Maybe you’ve never noticed it before but it’s one of those subtle details that Andrew Wyeth purposely put in his paintings. Many thought Christina, who suffered from polio and could not use her legs, also may have had a circulatory problem. Actually, in this painting, she is returning to her home from one of her favorite pastimes by dragging herself across the field, which fortunately, isn’t as far as this painting makes it out to be (see my photo post on Friday). She loved to pick and eat blueberries at the patch located at the bottom of the field and her hands were constantly stained blue because of it. In many ways this painting gives the sense of struggle but her handicap did not stop her from what she wanted to do and Andrew Wyeth was admiring of that perseverance. What may appear initially as a struggle or hardship in this painting is also a tribute to strength and determination — a rich dichotomy of meaning that only a masterful painter could achieve.
While at the Farnsworth Museum I picked up a notebook of a small collection of his drawings and I’ve scanned one of the Olson House below. Here’s where you can see what an incredible draftsman he was. I’ve also included an interesting composite of the window sketch and a profile of Christina Olson, probably done just as random thoughts. Actually, as an artist, I always just as fascinated in the preparatory sketches and illustrations behind the paintings because they are a part of the creative process and lead to the final product.
His notation as best I can read it says “very waring [wearing] color and wallpaper – running into rich red brown near ceiling.” He seemed to be taken with the interior as well. I have many pictures from my visit here to post at a future time. The fading, interior colors and aged textures of weathered paint were very inspirational for decorative finishes and seeing them in situ were some of my favorite parts of this trip.