Friday, November 14, 2014

Jamie Wyeth seen anew at the MFA

Portrait of a Lady (detail)

 I was quite familiar with Wyeth's ram, but had NOT seen his Portrait of a Lady.  Her expression is pert, intelligent, challenging and made me smile.


 The brush work (impasto and who knows what else!) on the fleece was varied, original and amazing.
 The canvas for this Raven was nearly five FEET Square.  Magnificent.  I would build a new mantle if I could have this over it.

In addition to graphite portraits of all three Kennedy brothers (and the famous oil painting of President John F. Kennedy), Wyeth did series portraits of several people:  Andy Warhol (with his dachshund), Rudolf Nuryev (apparently from memory!!) and a friend who was concerned about getting drafted in the Viet Nam era.  The friend got his draft notice on the day the portrait was finished.

His self portrait seems to be a bit more "worked"  but his interesting use of unexpected colors was already in evidence.  (Do you think his torso was really SO green?)

 As part of his military service during the Viet Nam era "he was granted top security clearance[17] and took part in “Eyewitness to Space”, a program jointly sponsored by NASA and the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, to depict the activities of the Apollo moon mission through an artist's perspective. A total of 47 artists were involved in the "Eyewitness to Space" program, including Robert Rauschenberg, Lamar Dodd, Norman Rockwell, and Morris Graves. Participants met astronauts at launch sites, such as Cape Kennedy, or rode helicopters to observe the pickup of astronauts. Of the works developed, the National Gallery of Arts chose 70 paintings, sculptures, and drawings for "The Artist and Space" exhibit that ran from December 1969 to early January 1970.[18]" (Wikipedia entry)

He had at least two Jack Russel Terriers and both of them had frightening experiences in the ocean.  This quick painting commemorates the rescue by other sailors of a very wet and cold buddy.

Below, Tiller recovers from a similar mishap (sliding off a sailboat, I believe.  I love how Wyeth caught his puddling wetness.
A youth in Maine sometimes served as a model.  The object in the background is the jawbone of a whale, which Wyeth's wife gave him as a gift. The curator's note indicated that the similar sheens and coldness of boy and bone were intentional, and a commentary on the difficulty of the whaling life.

 Wyeth's cheerful sketch of his wife, Phyllis, catching snowflakes.  She was partially paralyzed in her early twenties and used canes or a wheel chair to get around.

 I was struck by the imaginative perspective of this painting of gulls in Maine.  If one doesn't think about it enough, it would seem that the shadows on the building belonged to the gulls rather than trees which are almost out of view.

 Although Wyeth apparently liked to draw architectural details, particularly steeples, he lopped this one off for the sake of an almost symmetrical composition.

Note his pleasure in drawing the shutters and reflective window panes.
 It's a good thing this one had a title and an explanation.  Took me forever to figure out what it was, but then, of course, it rang a bell.

 A Maine Lighthouse made less cliched by the prominence of purple iris and the missing light assembly.

Even though the iris seem to be an "extra" component, they are painted with just as much artistry as any other square inch of any other painting.
Until I lived in New England, I wouldn't have believed that you could have so much contrast between snow, shadow and sky.  I still struggle to notice where sun and shadows actually strike.  But I loved how the bright snow draws one into the very center of the painting.  The interesting crow silhouettes don't hurt, either!

The enormous wrecked propeller was described as an artifact of the difficult life on the ocean.  I think the dogs are proof that life and living go on!

 Wyeth is known for several pumpkin paintings.  This one is watercolor.  (He often uses gouache as well.)  The convincing depth of the crack in the rocks was startling, as were the directive strokes in the stem and its shadow.

 His wife having fun again!  And smoking a cigar. 
 Wyeth visited the White House during the presidency of George W. Bush and left a sketch of Miss. Beazley, Barney and  Willie, the cat.
 Wyeth apparently loved to paint cardboard as well as paint ON it.  He liked the varied textures, shadows and utility. his painting was a take off on Kelloggs rooster mascot and corn flakes.
After seeing the painting of the Bale in person, I can well imagine that Wyeth dreamed about straw and hay.  This seems more like a portrait of the bale than an impression of one. The colors he found and used are unexpected but "perfect."

Close up.  Some of the strands of straw were scratched out rather than painted in.

 More cardboard and chickens, with an amazing rendition of the 10W-30 oil logo
Before Pamela was injured she was a fine  horsewoman (even steeplechase riding!).  The caption in the  museum pointed out that the dog is "leaning into the turn."  Such a detailed imagine Mr. Wyeth has!

Artists often struggle with symmetry.  Two paintings explored the theme;  One with an old and older house on a bluff and another with twin girls he met in line at a grocery store.  Wyeth was bold enough to ask their mother if they could pose for him.  I enjoyed seeing pairs which were "the same" but different. 

Somewhere I read that there is at least one if not more books of bird and ornithology related paintings.  I'm sure some would thrill ornithologists, but the one of purple martins swarming a palatial birdhouse seems to make a social commentary as well. Consider apparent public housing (i.e., crowded and a bit off balance) and the joys of a good meal, even if it is a dragonfly. 

After 9/11, Wyeth is said to have seen this home with an enormous flag while in Pennsylvania.  The overt expressions of patriotism and the need for deep reflection, even when dark and partial  is his commentary on the events of that time. 

  Similarly, he painted scenes of Maine beset by icebergs and storms.

There was almost an entire room of paintings of crows and seagulls. Amazing how vibrant "black" and "white" can be with the addition of just a little color.

His series on the Seven Deadly Sins has been widely shown.  I don't know if it is the paintings themselves that provoke me, or the amazement that one could conceive of such a combination of theme and subject.




I totally understand the challenge and delight in painting animals, whether wild or domestic, and Wyeth has created a bounty of wonderful images of chickens, pigs, goats, sheep, dogs and horses.  I am less clear about what prompted him to paint these three frisky, goofy goats peeking out from behind an enormous tree trunk.  I do know that it would be a challenge for me to make a tree trunk look even one tenth this interesting.  (not to mention those realistic goaty lurkers.)
 As usual, the information desk had great floral arrangements.  Next time I might borrow one of their portable camp-stool type seats and plot myself right in front of them to sketch!
The exhibit is on through December 28 (although parts of it will be going to Chadds Ford, PA, San Antonio, TX and Bentonville, AR in early 2015.

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