I happened to be in Denver this January and was fortunate to have visited the new exhibition: at the Denver Art Museum: “Wyeth, Andrew and Jamie in the Studio” curated by Timothy J. Standring of the Denver Art Museum Staff through Febuary 7, 2016. Standring's interpretation is: “It’s so off the wall, serious, and yet playful with all the different colors and shapes,” he said. “The effect is quite dizzying actually. It’s fabulous.” I have to agree, although those are not the sentiments I might have expected before visiting the show. Andrew Wyeth is primarily known as a realist painter, so well known for the girl sprawled on the grounds of the Cushing House in “Christina's World” from 1948. At a time when abstract expressionism by Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still, to name a few, were stealing the critics headlines, Andrew Wyeth was winning the admiration of legions of art lovers worldwide with his representations of the land and people around him, both in his hometown of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, and at his summer home in Cushing, Maine. Wyeth often noted: “I paint my life.” Despite immense popularity, critical assessments of both his art and legacy remained mixed during his lifetime but the abstract pendulum has continued to move and the representational subjects so loved by Wyeth have gained new respect as exemplified in this new exhibition at the Denver Art Museum. As an aside, it is the art of Jamie Wyeth that really steals this show.
Jamie Wyeth was in Denver for the opening of the show at the Denver Art Museum: Wyeth: Andrew and Jamie in the Studio.
“Since I don’t like talking about my work, I’ll talk about Andrew’s. I think Timothy really grasped the fact that my father was a messy painter. He was more of a wild man than others thought. He was more of an abstract expressionist than a realist. I think the exhibition changes the whole view point on Andrew. My father would have adored it.”
Since Jamie Wyeth is too shy to say it, let me say that Jamie Wyeth is a master of paint and metaphor and one of my new favorite artists. I have selected just one series of watercolors (not like any watercolors I have seen before) to illustrate my justification of the superlatives I have and will use to describe the art of Jamie Wyeth.
In this series of paintings based on the classical seven deadly sins, Jamie Wyeth manages to coax colors and emotions that can only be described as riotous. Wyeth's artistic reach is broader than his father's and grandfather's. He excels in drawing, lithography, etching, egg tempera, watercolor, and mixed media. Though grounded in this family’s artist tradition and subjects, and bound by the same solitude of his art, his wider travels and experiences have shaped a more rounded artist. Early on, Jamie Wyeth became interested in oil painting, his grandfather's primary medium, although he is also adept in watercolor and tempera, his father's preferred media. In describing his aunt's way of thickly applying oil to her palette, he stated, “I could eat it. Tempera never looked particularly edible. You have to love a medium to work in it. I love the feel and smell of oil.”
Although Andrew made pictures directly referring to Halloween (like this menacing stack of jack-o'-lanterns), he said that most of his paintings have an underlying haunted mood: “There's witchcraft and hidden meaning there. For me, the paintings have that eerie feeling of goblins and witches out riding on broomsticks, damp rotting leaves and moisture, the smell inside of a pumpkin when a candle is lit, the feel of your face under a mask walking down a road in the moonlight.” Jamie imagines grinning pumpkins tossed by the island's youth over the Monhegan headlands in the odd painting shown above. Jamie says he likes jack-o'-lanterns because he's “always loved the carved face just leering at you.”
There is so much more to see than I have presented, for both Andrew and Jamie Wyeth but I hope these examples will prompt you to jump out of your cozy winter chair and visit the Denver Art Museum for Wyeth: Andrew and Jamie in the Studio. The exhibition ends Febuary 7, 2016 and you will be sorry if you miss it. It is a fine exhibition that will completely change what you think you know of the Wyeth family artists.
Denver Art Museum: http://denverartmuseum.org/exhibitions/wyeth
Andrew Wyeth: http://andrewwyeth.com/
Abstract Expressionism: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/abex/hd_abex.htm
Jamie Wyeth: http://www.artnet.com/awc/james-wyeth.html
Wyeths and Halloween: http://denverartmuseum.org/article/wondrous-strange-wyeths-halloween