Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Andrew Wyeth 1917-2009

I discovered today that the great American painter, Andrew Wyeth died in January. He was someone whose work I have enjoyed a lot over the last few years, having discovered his work for myself about ten years ago. I was aware that he is someone whose paintings were quite derided by critics, but very popular with the American public. Reading all the obituaries today I was surprised to read just how much controversy his paintings created in his heyday during the 1960’s.They were seen it seemed to represent a formal and political conservatism in their realism at odds with other artistic trends of the times. This seems to be why they were so popular with the public and also with Republicans such as Ronald Reagan and George Bush, who owned his works.

I’m interested in the mystery of appearances, and this for me is expressed so vividly in the best of Wyeth’s paintings. His wonderful pencil drawings also demonstrated to me the possibilities of this medium and persuaded me to work more creatively with this. I like the emotional and formal restraint in his work most of all, however. This always seemed extremely well-judged and gave the paintings a real charge. I’ve often been inspired by a quote he made in the wonderfully illustrated monograph, ‘The Helga Pictures’, that I own,

‘There is a quote from Hamlet that is my guide…
He tells the players do not exaggerate, but hold a mirror up to nature.
Don’t overdo it. Don’t underdo it. Do it just on the line.'


tempera on panel, 16 x 20inches, 1979

I think he was an incredibly talented artist, with a very rare and unique vision. His death is a great loss to painting. At least we are left with his wonderful paintings to continue to enjoy.

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