Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Book review: Andrew Wyeth: Looking Out, Looking In

Andrew Wyeth (1917 - 2009), Wind from the Sea, 1947, 18 1/2 x 27 9/16 in. 

Andrew Wyeth's tempera painting Wind from the Sea was a recent gift to the National Gallery of Art, and it's now the centerpiece of an exhibit at the National Gallery through November 30, 2014.

I haven't seen the exhibition, but I have a copy of the catalog, which is called Andrew Wyeth: Looking Out, Looking In.

The book and the exhibit include some of Wyeth's landmark paintings, such as Spring Fed.

Back in 2010, I visited the barn at Kuerner's Farm, where he painted the studies for the painting in 1967. It was fun to compare the painting with reality. Wyeth had a way of starting with an ordinary motif and transforming it in little ways to make it more mysterious.

The book is 10 x 11 inches, and clocks in at 192 pages. It includes many paintings that I hadn't seen before, such as Quaker.

It also includes a lot of quicker sketches and studies in watercolor that haven't been exhibited or reproduced before. This collection excludes the figure, making it quite different from Wyeth's other themed show on his Helga works.

The text is what you would expect from two museum curators. They place his work in the context of his times, and make authoritative allusions to contemporaries like Charles Sheeler and Edward Hopper. But they also serve up a lot of of marshmallowy sentences, such as: "Like the windows that so often framed them, the figures that populate the worlds of their paintings were permeable thresholds where self and other converged and diverged." 

To get into Wyeth's head, I'd recommend Andrew Wyeth: A Spoken Self-Portrait, which is made up of of Wyeth's own quizzical reflections about life and art, recorded over many years by his friend Richard Meryman.

Fortunately the second half of this new book reproduces all of the 60 paintings that are in the show, and they're reproduced full page and without verbal adornment.
Book: Andrew Wyeth: Looking Out, Looking In
Exhibition through Nov. 30 at the National Gallery: Andrew Wyeth: Looking Out, Looking In


Tom Hart said...

I can't wait to get a look at this book. Andrew Wyeth is a giant, no doubt about it. When I first saw his works (in reproduction) they affected me in a unique and powerful way. But oddly, for me, his paintings work better in reproduction than in real life. A recent visit to the Brandywine museum confirmed this. Obviously that's a personal reaction and, from what I gather not the norm. Curious, but true...

Rich said...

I can feel the wind blowing through that window.


Unknown said...

"Marshmallowy" is the perfect word for that kind of writing! That kind of stuff has been annoying me for years but I could never put a name to it before.

TommyD said...

McNeill - what's the value of your comment?

Just ordered the book and will visit the show - thanks Jim for the book review.

Anonymous said...

Tommy D - what is the value of YOUR comment?

James Gurney said...

Hey, guys, I'm probably the cause of this by using the word "marshmallowy" to describe some of the writing in the book. No offense to other museum curators, many of whom are good writers. McNeill is right: a lot of art books suffer from annoyingly fluffy writing.

In this case I wish the curators restricted themselves to verifiable facts and let Wyeth do more of the talking about the meaning of his art. His words are flinty and elemental, anything but marshmallowy.

Tom, that's interesting what you say about the reproductions having more impact than the originals. I guess its a tribute to the quality of the repros on Wyeth's work. Also, his sepia palette suffers less from bad color reproduction.

Gloria J Callahan Colored Pencil Paintings said...

Hi All,, I've seen the exhibit at the national and it's wonderful. I was very much struck with the number of paintings where his working sketch in charcoal, then the same scene in watercolor were hung by the final tempera painting. All in the size of the final painting. Many of us do the sketch small and other studies small when working out our finished piece. Not Wyeth. In many cases I loved the colors and his capturing the light effects best in the watercolor piece!
This was an interesting exhibit to view!

Brooks Hansen said...

I want to thank you on behalf of my uncle, Richard Meryman, for the kind words you've been sending his way. I also, on his behalf, want to strongly suggest you pay him a visit if you're ever up his way, and I would happily facilitate. He has a trove of material you'd go crazy for, recorded, documented and undocumented -- not just about Wyeth, but about the artistic/painting community up in the Dublin/Keene NH area early mid 20th century, of which Meryman's father was an integral part. Just the stuff about his friendship with Abbott Thayer would be worth the visit, and a lot of the work (and studio material) is still on premise. If you are interested, please do let me know, and I can put you in contact. Having followed your blog for a while now, I can assure you: it's a window into a world from which you and your readers would derive tons of inspiration.