Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Victoria's Andy

The exhibition "Andrew Wyeth at 100: A Family Remembrance" at the Fenimore Art Museum in New York blows away the misconception that Andrew Wyeth was a melancholy, dour loner. 

"Fuzzy Wooly Andy," ca. 2000 Photo by Victoria Browning Wyeth
The impression that comes across from his granddaughter Victoria's viewpoint is of the "Andy" she knew, who giggled, tickled, hugged, and laughed. 

MASTER BEDROOM, 1965 watercolor. Collection of Victoria Browning Wyeth
© 2017 Andrew Wyeth / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Victoria curated the show, writing the captions, and included many works from her own collection. 

It's a small show, but there are watercolors, egg temperas, early self portraits, quick portraits of family members, photographs (many by Vic herself), illustrated letters, items of clothing, and even paintbrushes (He used, among others, Laurut brand kolinsky round mops with quill ferrules).

Outpost, 1968 tempera. Andrew and Betsy Wyeth Collection
© 2017 Andrew Wyeth / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

The show is full of insights into Wyeth's thinking and working methods. According to Victoria, Andy NEVER used photographs for his paintings. Here's a grab bag of quotes:

"It is not a portrait unless the person is looking at you." (A. Wyeth)

"He always talked about the sounds in his paintings."

"He was wonderful because he would talk with you — converse with you when you posed. He would always talk about something he knew you were interested in— any kind of subject."

"He always mixed his own black. 'You need to build the excitement of the black, with blues, greens reds, etc.'"

"Art has no rules." (A. Wyeth)

The Revenant, 1949 tempera. New Britain Museum,
Harriet Russell Stanley Fund, © 2017 Andrew Wyeth
Art Rights Society (ARS), NY
I love the curating because it cuts through all the bull you usually read in museum captions. It is personal, informal, and genuine, and offers a new way to look at this somewhat elusive artist. As Victoria said, "I feel it's time the world saw the Andy in Andrew Wyeth."
Andrew Wyeth at 100: A Family Remembrance is on view at the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, New York through September 4.
Book: Andrew Wyeth | Victoria Wyeth: My Andy (Andrew Wyeth)
The larger Andrew Wyeth exhibition is at the Brandywine Museum in Pennsylvania: Andrew Wyeth in Retrospect, through September 17, with a book: Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect


Jim Douglas said...

Between Walls
By William Carlos Williams

the back wings
of the

hospital where

will grow lie

in which shine
the broken

pieces of a green

Jim Douglas said...

In "Between Walls" we are ushered into a world "where nothing will grow," a world full of cinders and broken glass. And yet the poet manages to find life and beauty between these walls. Likewise, Andrew Wyeth could find the shining, living spirit in a dead winter landscape.

Unknown said...

James,Thanks for the post on Andrew Wyeth. I have a question about his “dry brush” technique. I have never seen an adequate explanation of the method. All that I have read seem to come from the same source, “ take a brush loaded with watercolor and squeeze most of the moisture out between your fingers . . . “ This sounds so glib that I question whether any of these folks have ever actually tried it, because if they had they would surely know that it is obviously not that simple. Can you offer any insight into his so-called dry brush method?

James Gurney said...

Ted, I've never been completely satisfied with this explanation, and A.W. wasn't one to talk much about his technique. Looking at one of his originals called a "dry brush," I noticed that it had plenty of passages of juicy, wet washes. There seemed to be quite a variety of brush size, dryness, and pigment load—certainly not all dry!

Bill said...

Wish I could get to the show, but the book is very nice. Saw the In Retrospective show last month - spent 5 days at the Brandywine studying 104 paintings. Magnificent!

Understanding Wyeth's drybrush technique is pretty complex, for sure. James is correct that he drybrushed over juicy passages laid down as a base. With drybrush Wyeth was basically using his tempera techniques with watercolor. Much of what he put down as drybrush watercolor is pretty opaque.

It takes a LOT of practice to even to begin to understand this technique! Maybe someday...

p.s. this is a wonderful site!

David Apatoff said...

Coming from another painter, Wyeth's theory that "Art has no rules" could easily sound like a self-serving cop out or an excuse for laziness. But more than any other contemporary painter I can think of, Wyeth earned the right to make that claim. He paid his dues with decades of long, careful exploration of exact appearances. Good for him for expending his capital in conclusions like this.

As an aside, Wyeth's personal temperament probably doesn't matter much now; his personal acquaintances who had to suffer through whatever attitudes and issues accompanied his artistic genius are dwindling in number and soon will be gone. Then his art will be left to speak for itself. But while we're still living in that cusp, it's probably worth noting that Wyeth seemed to be a lot more playful with his grandchildren than his children. His children tell stories about being abandoned for hours in the woods because their father became fascinated with the shape of some leaf and forgot about them. His grandchildren, on the other hand, seem to recall a much more benign and attentive figure.

Peter Drubetskoy said...

After visiting the Brandywine show over the weekend, I can only say that I tried to examine several "drybrushes" closely and found that:
1) In one instance at least can clearly see use of white gouache: in the net on the left of the bull painting
2) Some washes and dabs suggest a mix of watercolor and gouache (probably white) akin to what Nathan Fowkes uses. These have the watercolor quality but look too opaque
3) Others look like thick paint straight from the tube. Just "squeezing most of the moisture out between your fingers" would leave your brush either too dry to leave any mark or too wet to create the thick, opaque dabs of paint that one sees in Wyeth's drybrushes.
4) Wyeth also occasionally used black ink, such as in The German, where its streaks even created the tree trunks. I believe that the black in Lovers is also black ink.