The Kennedys, the Windsors, the Kardashians . . . we are enthralled by family drama. Presidency, royalty, and celebrity become the stuff of biography and reality television.
Deemed the First Family of American Painting, the Wyeths ignite a similar fascination. Andrew Wyeth, arguably its most popular member, rose to prominence in the 1930s during the Great Depression. His art falls under the category of American regionalism, an aspect of the American realist movement that gained ground after World War I, focusing on rural life. More than simple bucolic scenes, however, Andrew’s works feel unsettling, like the moment before, or perhaps just after, catastrophe.
Last fall, contributing editor Steven Tingle met with Wyeth’s son Jamie when he visited the Greenville County Museum of Art as part of its current exhibition Wyeth Dynasty, on view through September 10 (see “American Beauty,” page 80), which commemorates Wyeth’s 100th birthday this year. The GCMA has one of the most comprehensive collections of Andrew’s work, and the exhibition includes his art as well as Jamie’s, that of sisters Carolyn and Henriette, and father N.C.
Wyeth’s work is both beloved and overlooked. Tingle writes, “While some, such as writer John Updike and late director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Thomas Hoving, championed Wyeth’s work, others rode the fence. One of the best assessments comes from the late art historian and curator Robert Rosenblum who said that ‘at once the most overestimated painter by the public and the most underestimated painter by the knowing art audience . . . a creator of very, very haunting images that nobody who hates him can get out of their minds.’”
Jamie agrees that his father’s work is edgy, unusual, even strange. Unlike his own art, which is abstract and whimsical, more dreamlike than real, Andrew’s art betrays loneliness and isolation. In a sense, it is realism at its core, stripped down to the naked truth of life.
If artwork is an extension of the artist, then GCMA’s exhibition is also a bearer of family ties. Each member has a different vision, a separate stroke. But, together, the clan creates a singular, commanding voice, with weight and relevance that can only be encompassed by one word: dynasty.
Though color blind, Carl Blair translates the American landscape in brilliant form. For more on the Greenville artist’s prominent work and life, visit Modern Man.