Andrew Ferguson on Andrew Wyeth: ‘Terror In The Abstract:’
Andrew Wyeth homepage here with some images included.
There are definitely interesting things going on with light in Wyeth’s work. It fills his paintings. I also find my eye and mind hovering between realist depiction and abstract arrangement of objects on the canvas.
‘Beneath the frequent prettiness, most of the pictures are just this side of harrowing, not just lonesome and melancholy but portraits of life as it seeps inevitably away. The wind that lifts the lace curtain in Wind from the Sea makes the hair on your arms stand up. Jamie Wyeth, Andrew’s son and a celebrated artist himself, confesses to being puzzled by the benign view of Wyeth’s work. “My father’s work is terrifying,” he said. It’s not sentimental. It’s luminous! But in a creepy way.’
Wyeth reached a level of popular appreciation few artists ever receive in their lifetimes.
Like many Americans, I find myself drawn to what I would call a New England plainness and Yankee work ethic and aesthetic, which is evident is some of Wyeth’s landscapes, at least. Long winters and deep woods. Shorter distances and stonier soil in the meadows. Perhaps a Puritan, high-minded spiritual reserve.
Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson and Nathaniel Hawthorne spring immediately to mind, but, I confess so did that gothic Mainer and fiction horror-writer Stephen King.
Or perhaps the Shaker work song ‘Simple Gifts’ adapted by Aaron Copland might be a good example of what I’m trying to get at.
Here’s Yo-Yo Ma and Alison Kraus performing:
So, is this representative of Wyeth? Perhaps. He did much of his work in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania and Maine, but according to Wikipedia there may be other influences as well:
‘N.C. also fostered an inner self-confidence to follow one’s own talents without thought of how the work is received. N.C. wrote in a letter to Wyeth in 1944:
“The great men [ Thoreau, Goethe, Emerson, Tolstoy] forever radiate a sharp sense of that profound requirement of an artist, to fully understand that consequences of what he creates are unimportant. Let the motive for action be in the action itself and not in the event. I know from my own experience that when I create with any degree of strength and beauty I have no thought of consequences. Anyone who creates for effect — to score a hit — does not know what he is missing!”‘
So, I’m speculating. Addition: There’s also a strong modernist-influenced creative imagination at work here too, and like Hopper, the American question of what to do with all that space and wilderness.
Yet, a man able to walk familiar land, seeing it anew with keen eyes, hoping his senses pick up more than he knows, having a medium with which to express his thoughts seems a man who’s had some success in life, regardless of popular appreciation.
Of course, a concupiscent eye must come into tension with other parts of a man’s character.
Or at least when there was a tittering about his ‘Helga‘ paintings a while back.
‘Stopping to rest near a group of European spring beauties, he saw on a trail above him a young woman on a walk. Assuming she was alone, she moved off the trail, lifted her skirt, and defecated in the grass. Wyeth was charmed. “The white curve of her bottom was amazing,” he told Meryman. The little lumps she left tumbled downhill and stopped in the patch of spring beauties.’
Well, there you go, America.
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