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Andrew Wyeth

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Nowadays, it is considered taboo in figurative painting to betray any sense of feeling if you want to be taken seriously. Objective analysis of form and color is heralded as a higher goal for a painter, and yet I am not sure I agree. The art can then very easily become just as boring as photorealism. There is a lot of excellent painting happening today, but when I feel that it is being conducted in a mechanical method or pixelized way, rather than perhaps being something pounced upon and pushed through an emotional instinct, it does not seem to go beyond craft and decoration for me. I think this becomes even more interesting to examine the closer you edge to the extremes of more abstract versus highly rendered paintings. When I look at Andrew Wyeth’s paintings, the last thing that comes to mind is painstaking, empty illustration. There is a love driving his work, both found and lost. I always feel privileged to look at his paintings, swept away by the chance to stand in his shoes and look deeply at his recordings of the people, places and weather around him. It is a rare gift that someone looked so stubbornly, poignantly and faithfully – not afraid to expose himself so, despite the trends of the commercial art world.

Andrew Wyeth (July 12, 1917 – January 16, 2009) was primarily classified as a realist painter and is one of the artists I have consistently looked at in astonishment during the past 20 years. In a “Life Magazine” article in 1965, Wyeth said that although he was thought of as a realist, he thought of himself as an abstractionist:

My people, my objects breathe in a different way: there’s another core — an excitement that’s definitely abstract. My God, when you really begin to peer into something, a simple object, and realize the profound meaning of that thing — if you have an emotion about it, there’s no end.

Wyeth’s favorite subjects were the land and people around him, both in his hometown of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, and at his summer home in Cushing, Maine. With his father’s guidance, painter and illustrator N.C. Wyeth, he mastered figure study and watercolor, and later learned egg tempera from his brother-in-law Peter Hurd. He studied art history on his own, admiring many masters of Renaissance and American painting, especially Winslow Homer.

N.C. fostered an inner self-confidence to follow one’s own talents without thought of how the work is received. In a letter to Andrew in 1944, N.C. wrote:

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!

In October 1945, Wyeth’s father and three-year-old nephew were killed when their car stalled on railroad tracks near their home and was struck by a train. The strong emotions arising from this tragedy engulfed Wyeth personally and artistically, finding an outlet in what would become his enduring style. For further biographical reading on Wyeth in Wikipedia, click here. There is a great video of “Andrew Wyeth Draws a Portrait” on the Painting Perceptions forum. Sharing below images I have collected over time for others to enjoy.

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4 Comments

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  1. I.S. #
    August 9, 2011

    thank you for sharing such complete study ; I love Wyeth, and I discover a lot of pictures I didn’t know until now. it’s just wonderful and inspiring !

    • Rebecca Harp #
      August 10, 2011

      thanks much for your comment, and I am very happy to know you are able to enjoy more of Wyeth’s paintings.
      Best,
      Rebecca

  2. August 16, 2011

    Great article Rebecca, I love that quote from him “…if you have an emotion about it, there’s no end”, I’m going to put that up on my studio wall. You bring up many important points.

    As much as I like formal structure and abstract thinking in painting I think the driving force behind it needs to be an emotional connection. I don’t completely “get” the aesthetic that champions “detachment” above all. There is a big difference between the sentimental and picturesque on one hand and emotional connection and beauty. Too many seem to want to throw the baby out with the bathwater…

    I have the excellent book, Unknown Terrain – the Landscapes of Andrew Wyeth. It clearly shows his abstract thinking in many of the plates. I’m sending you some of my favorites by email and I may post these images (not currently in your batch of images from him)and write on him as well soon – and link here to your article.

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