I trust readers here will enjoy this prose-poem which I just wrote on this cold Tasmanian afternoon for Red Bubble. My post is a little long and outside the convention of short posts as is the custom at most internet sites and I trust moderators here will overlook this aspect of my post. Readers are advised to just skim or scan this piece if it looks a little too long for their literary and internet sensibilities—or just don’t read it—-something I often have done for the last 60 years!—Ron Price, Tasmania
The Transmission of Emotion
“Groundhog Day” is an Andrew Wyeth(1917-2009) painting from 1959. He was, we are told by contemporary art historians, at the height of his powers back then. The year 1959 was, for me, a memorable one. I joined the Baha’i Faith that year. I was 15—more than 50 years ago. In the foreground of the Groundhog Day painting by Wyeth is a table set with a white plate, cup and saucer and knife on a flat table. Wintry light spills through a window just behind, and through the window you see brown grass, a barbed-wire fence and a huge log with a jagged end and a chain wrapped around it. A remarkable orchestration of light, space and texture, it is also richly symbolic: outside there is violence and death; inside a sacramental order and the light of an austere divinity. The window, a recurrent motif in Wyeth, both connects and separates the realms of inner culture and outer wildness. I like Wyeth’s work.
One reason Mr. Wyeth’s work may remain popular despite its often foreboding astringency is that it is always elegantly stylish. Groundhog Day would make a fine illustration for a magazine advertisement. Insert a model in rugged clothes, and you would have a good ad. People in Wyeth’s portraits, to which a room in a recent exhibition was devoted, look like fashion models: handsome but opaque and, though painted with much detail, somehow unreal.
Mr. Wyeth was preoccupied with death all his painting life. I have also been preoccupied with death as a result of my bipolar disorder. My preoccupation was of a different intensity, extent and time frame. Wyeth’s preoccupation with mortality and the end of life began in his early adulthood. Mine was episodic associated with the depressive end of manic-depression. A picture painted by Wyeth in 1942 depicts a dead crow among weeds and grasses painted with an extreme lucidity. A painting from 1982 showing a bearded man lying in profile in a white-planked dory at sea was one of a number of portraits of dying friends in the exhibition. But the scary and ugly facts of death are erased in Mr. Wyeth’s pictures in favour of a mournful and melancholy poetic beauty.
Wyeth was obsessed for decades with painting. My obsession with writing slowly and insensibly developed in young and middle adulthood, 1964-2004.
Ron Price with thanks to Ken Johnson, “‘Andrew Wyeth: Memory and Magic’ at the Philadelphia Museum of Art,” (January 29, 2009 – May 3, 2009), The New York Times, 18 April 2006.—imaginatively
You gave us a vision of rustic life with
bleakness offset by an attractive design.
You created imaginary places where we
could experience an authentic, elemental
and meaningful simplicity that is hard to
find in ordinary life. Nowhere was there
a sense of community or politics, though,(1)
as there almost always was in the art of that
other immensely popular American painter,
Norman Rockwell. Your work generated a
melancholy and otherworldly mood….You
constructed airlessly tasteful
closed-up worlds, like the inside of a house
kept so neat and tidy and suggesting nobody
lived there. Your romantic isolationism kept
the world at bay as does my need-passion to
write, to endlessly write until life’s endtime
and to transmit my emotion into more words.
(1) Richard Meryman in his biography Andrew Wyeth: A Secret Life(Harper Collins, 1997) described this distinguished painter’s enterprise of transmitting emotion onto a flat surface. The book is a portrait of obsession, of how single-mindedness affected Wyeth’s relationships and transformed his world into a realm of secrecy and fervid imagination. The book also tells of Wyeth’s formidable wife.
(2) “No other contemporary artist was so closely identified with the American nation’s vision of its rural soul. Wyeth’s paintings were exhibited in the first one-man show ever held in the White House in 1970. –Telegraph.co.uk, 18 Jan 2009.”
He made his solo debut at the Philadelphia Art Alliance in 1936, at the age of eighteen, and was launched on the national scene the following year with a sold-out exhibition at the Macbeth Gallery in New York. It was the year of the launching of the first Baha’i teaching Plan. “All I want to do is paint,” said Wyeth, “and I paint the things I know best.” Andrew Wyeth—See In Memoriam, 16 January 2009, Philadelphia Museum of Art.
2 July 2010
“Groundhog Day” is an Andrew Wyeth(1917-2009) painting from 1959. He was, we are told by contemporary art historians, at the height of his powers back then. The year 1959 was, for me, a memorable one. I joined the Baha’i Faith that year. I was 15—more than 50 years ago. In the foreground of the Groundhog Day painting by Wyeth is a table set with a white plate, cup and saucer and knife on a flat table. Wintry light spills through a window just behind, and through the window you see brown grass, a barbed-wire fence and a huge log with a jagged end and a chain wrapped around it.