Why Andrew Wyeth isn't For Everyone
In total surprise, I listened to my Grandma express her disappointment in the Andrew Wyeth exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum. Before diving into her perspective, a few notes on Wyeth to provide a ‘neutral’ understanding of his work. Described as a realist painter, primarily focused on landscapes (mostly of the Maine country/ocean side) and portraits of people he felt to be realer than real. Because of this style, there aren’t many surprises, abstract vibes, or overstated pieces. As an American artist, his career spanned 75 years and SAM publications note that ‘few artists careers course through the entirety of the modern era as steadily as Andrew Wyeth’
So, what was my Grandma’s deal? She described his work as ‘stark’ and was disappointed the women in his nude paintings weren’t more curvy and vibrant. Everything was depressing and dull. These are actually keen observations because Wyeth spent most of his time expressing himself through painting during the 40’s in the midsts of World War 2. In these ways, her feelings were spot on but, for me, it was the opposite effect! There is a reason he had been able to reach popularity and achieve major distributions of his work in major art museums all over the country (while he was still alive btw). The women he chose to paint were immortalized as representations of real women. There is nothing flashy or exaggerated about them and to me, this is a refreshing concept. One of his models was painted again in her late 30’s, age creeping around her eyes and smile. She seemed plain, natural and still beautiful.
Looking out the window I couldn’t help but notice the starkness of the trees and the beauty of ice reflecting white sun in a parking lot. How the sky offered the only sense of color and the details of the world around me were magnified due to the season. In being present with Wyeth’s work, I felt it to be comforting and familiar, even if it was tapping into the dark feels buried within me. Up close, there were hints of vibrancy and details in every plane. No space or perspective went unutilized: even trees in far distance had their branches. The realities he was seeing drew me in and I imagine, for the past generations drenched in war, it had a similar draw. My favorite piece, besides the sweet (one of many) nude Helga was simply that of a dark, drab room accompanied with a brightly colored turquoise door. The door isn’t perfectly polished, it was worn in spots where the owners had come and gone many times- it is simply a beautiful and humble representation of one of many, many realities (and interpretations). We all see and understand things differently, and this especially applies to art. No reality or interpretation is incorrect, and that is the most exciting part of it all
By: Lauren Royer