Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Tamaki and Wyeth: New Books

A new graphic novel by the cousin team Jillian Tamaki and Marika Tamaki, This One Summer follows the friendship of two girls, Rosie and Windy during a summer they spend together at a lake house.

Against the backdrop of family dramas and neighborhood crises, they go swimming, watch movies, dance, eat, and talk, trying to make sense the adult world from their perspective of preadolescence.

Both the writing and the drawing are natural and well-observed, and the close pairing of word and pictures leads to moments of real poetry.

Between 1964 and 2007, Life magazine editor Richard Meryman visited Andrew Wyeth and let him talk —with the tape recorder running. The resulting 400 hours of material were boiled down to a 126 page book called Andrew Wyeth: A Spoken Self-Portrait

Wyeth's musings, together with a peppering of quotes from family, friends, and critics, gives a powerful insight into Wyeth's unconventional thinking. There are quite a few photos, paintings, and sketches included in the book, and the back of the book has a portfolio of photos of Wyeth's spare studio.

By way of example, here's what Wyeth says about painting in watercolor: "You've got to be a perfect ass to paint the way I do. My best watercolors are when I lose all control—gobs of paint and scratches and spit and maybe mud spattered against the sky. You start to clean it up and there's no life — just smooth things maybe done in the studio with a hairdryer to blow your washes."

"I'd rather miss sometimes and hit strong other times than be an in-between person. If I lose this wildness, I'd be just a perfectionist. I certainly don't want to die without trying every means possible to get what I want. It doesn't matter if you stand on your head and use your feet if you get what you want. I did as many as six watercolors a day and might get one or two that came off."

At Amazon:
This One Summer - Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki


Steve said...

Thanks for featuring these two books, Jim. I just finished reading the Wyeth book. The quotation you gave is the one that most jumped out at me, as well, particularly "If I lose this wildness, I'd be just a perfectionist."

Here is another, related passage: "I think there must always be a quality of the unexpected in a thing. It's very important you get off on it when you're a little off-balance, otherwise perfection starts too quickly. Maybe you'll put in a lot of filigree, but that first momentary spark will still come through. Before deterioration sets in, I'll drop my brush, turn my back quickly, and rush away, shut the door. I want to leave in a state of wondering. Then I have all night to dream of it and not be certain what I'm going to see the next morning. Then I can tell after one second whether it's crap or good. It's a very difficult thing to know just when you've lost your spirit and it's gone dead on you."

Two other great lines: "All I am is an instrument trying to tune in to that thing that's there."

"Anything has to be out of control before it becomes good; then you haul it back in."

Final note; readers coming to this book seeking Wyeth's comments about the Helga paintings will find not a word. I wasn't looking for that myself, but a few days after reading the book it occurred to me that subject is not addressed. Richard Meryman really did edit the transcripts into one long exposition of Wyeth's painting philosophy.

jeff jordan said...

Looks like I'll need this Wyeth book. Wyeth has been a hero of mine for over 40 years. That quote about doing whatever it takes really speaks to the whole go-around last week about Fitz Hugh Lane maybe using a camera lucida.

I'm in the middle of Robert Henri's The Art Spirit. I've read a lot of various artist's philosophy books, and Wyeth has always stood out, now Henri. I always love it when it seems like a great artist is speaking directly to me.

Dan said...

This is my first introduction to Wyeth's work and philosophy, which are both quite interesting. It strikes me that there is an element of surrealism in his ideas and approach.

"Perfectionist," as a pejorative, is an interesting idea. It has always seemed to me that there is this false dichotomy: A work is either done in a carefully controlled way and is thereby rendered lifeless, or else it is done in a chaotic way and is thereby left full of spirit and significance. It always pretty much seemed to me that a desire to make a work as good as you can make it includes a desire for it to communicate on a deeper level. If the most obvious thing about a picture is the process that was used to create it, then that picture is not very successful artistically, and hence very imperfect. To strive for perfection is to strive to make works with impact, which of course is what Wyeth was aiming for even as he avoided "perfectionism." It is certainly true that at some point an artist must turn from mastering his vocabulary to the much more important task of saying something. But it somehow seems a sort of narrow view that in order to say something effectively you must always avoid trying to say it well.

Not to belittle Wyeth of course. In a way, the deliberate chaos can be seem as a sort of surrealist game--a way of getting in touch with one's own emotions and perceptions below the surface and attempting to bring them out in a painting. Being "in tune" is an important aspect on some level to all art.

James Gurney said...

Dan, I'm glad you mentioned that, because Wyeth's mention of "perfectionism" as a problem also bothered me a bit. Maybe he means an overly finished surface, or something that is too resolved. Some of his paintings are indeed highly finished and resolved, and they still have that sense of mystery. In the same book he talks about working for five months on a single piece. Then he'll turn around and say he knocked something out in 20 minutes. Wyeth contradicts himself all the time: sometimes he says emotion is everything and then he'll say that abstract design is what matters. But it's totally OK with me if his artistic philosophy is contradictory or strange. I suppose if he was teaching a how-to class, he'd need to be more consistent.

Jeff, I remember reading The Art Spirit quite a while ago and being fired up by it. Haven't read it in a while.

Steve, thanks for those other passages. Great food for thought.

Unknown said...

It's stuff like those that prove that comics are far from a dying medium, even in the face of the elimination of paper formats everywhere. There's a unique texture to every mix of words and pictures, a tactility that always make reading them much more viscerally immediate and impacting. Thanks for putting the word out on those Andrew Wyeth and Tamaki comics, which wouldn't have been to my knowledge until the social sites really took off.

Patrick Godknecht @ PDG World Marketing

James Gurney said...

Patrick, yes, I love graphic novels, and I read recently in the Wall Street Journal that the only area that's actually growing in print publishing is graphic novels.

Steve said...

JIm, I agree -- Andrew Wyeth comes across as somewhat contradictory in this book. Given the number of years the book spans, it's probable something he said in 1948 is inconsistent with a proclamation from 1984; few dates are given in the book, it just unspools.

In regard to graphic novels, I'd recommend Stitches by Caldecott-winning artist/author David Small.

James Gurney said...

Steve, yes, Stitches is really powerful. Another recommendation is Blankets, by Craig Thompson, a semi-autobiographical growing up story about a young man who discovers a wider world beyond the strictures of his religious family in the Midwest.

Catherine said...

I suppose one could distinguish between perfectionism as pursuing a highly polished technique (even devoid of experimentation and/or accidents?) and perfectionism as pursuing the greatest, most effective impact (or perhaps even the greatest impact *intended by the artist*) as mentioned by Dan.

The former being what Wyeth sought to avoid, the latter being what he embraced.

This tension between order and chaos is, I think, a fundamental aspect of creativity