MADRID.- The Thyssen Bornemisza Museum
in collaboration with the Denver Art Museum is presenting the first retrospective in Europe on Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009) and his son Jamie (born 1946), both leading representatives of 20th-century American Realism. More than 60 works loaned from public institutions and private collections, some never previously exhibited in public, will offer visitors a chance to become acquainted with the work of these two artists and to learn about their lives and creative abilities.
Wyeth: Andrew and Jamie in the Studio will also reveal how in some cases the two artists work ran in parallel, was mutually complementary or even provoked challenges. Generous access to the private collections of Andrew and Betsy Wyeth and of Jamie Wyeth has allowed the exhibitions curator, Timothy J. Standring, curator of painting and sculpture at the Gates Foundation of Denver Art Museum, to devise a comprehensive exhibition that includes major works by both artists, spanning every period of their respective careers.
Paint what you know and love
Together with their taste for the theatrical, for black humour and for technical experimentation, the Wyeths shared the same sensibility. The two artists worked in Pennsylvania and Maine in relative isolation from the art world. Both were child prodigies and were educated at home where they also learned artistic techniques from other family members and devoted thousands of hours to mastering this discipline and to looking for and finally encountering the universe that they wanted to reveal to others.
Both artists also shared the way they used techniques and materials in an unconventional way. Possibly in a reaction to their very academic training, neither ever applied any type of formal hierarchy to their drawings or finished works. Everything began when they felt a profound emotion that, in the exhibition curators words, can be summarised as Paint what inspires you at the moment, paint what you know and love.
The exhibition has been devised as an artistic conversation between the two painters on some of the themes that have defined their output and which have been used to structure the exhibition into the following sections: Father and son; Friends and neighbours; Shared places; Animals; Nudes; Control and exuberance; and Wondrous Strange.
Father and son
Andrew and Jamie grew up in homes filled with books and creativity. Andrews father, who was known as N.X., became celebrated as an illustrator of classic adventure stories such as Robin Hood and Treasure Island. N.X. encouraged Andrews artistic interests, which he in turn passed on to Jamie. In Faraway (1952), one of his first dry-brush works, Andrew painted his son with the aim of capturing the details with the greatest possible precision: It's a moment that I'm after, a fleeting moment but not a frozen moment, he commented on this work. Jamie later recalled that while he was posing he realised that he had lost a toy soldier in the grass, which would explain his faraway look.
As a young man Jamie aspired to become known as a portraitist. At the age of 23 he painted one of his father, in which his simple, traditional Amish jacket, which barely stands out from the background, gives the portrait a sombre air. According to the artist, although his father was a lot of fun, he was serious when it came to his work, or anybody else´s work.
Friends and neighbours
The two artists looked for inspiration in familiar objects and people. Their models were principally friends, neighbours and relatives, while they also painted each other. In their few commissioned portraits they fully assimilated their models worlds, sharing stories with them, studying their movements and their normal context and observing their daily activities. People I pick to paint it´s not their physiognomy but what they´re about, Jamie has said, adding: You have to know everything about them. Otherwise, it´s just skins. Andrew thought the same: Im involved with the people I paint. They become my friends. I dont just paint them and send home.
For Andrew, even empty rooms reflect the personality of the people who live in them. This is the case with Seed Corn (1948), in which he painted the attic of his friends Alvaro and Christina Olsons house. I think a person permeates a spot...In the portraits of that house, the windows are eyes or pieces of the soul, almost. To me, each window is a different part of Christinas life.
Every May, the Wyeths left Pennsylvania and travelled to the small towns along the coast of Maine and its islands, and it was rare that they moved away from these familiar locations. They felt free when working in familiar settings. In the hills, woods, rocky landscapes and houses that had a personal significance for the two artists, the viewer can appreciate how different their artistic visions were: Andrew was obsessed with everyday - and thus often overlooked - themes, while Jamie looked for the strange and the uncanny.
There are few nudes in Andrew Wyeths work until 1968, the year that led him to explore the human figure for a variety of different reasons. The death of his friend and long-time model Christina Olson left a void in his creativity, as he himself acknowledged. Shortly after this and perhaps inspired by the drawings that Jamie was producing of his cousin (Nude of Robin McCoy, 1968), Andrew embarked on a series of nudes of a young neighbour, Siri Erickson (The Virgin, 1969, and Study for Lovers, 1981). These works led on to others in the same genre.
The Wyeths pets were always part of the family. Father and son closely identified with them when they painted them in works such as Racoon (1958), The Islander (1975) and Night Sleeper (1979), putting as much care and concentration in these subjects as any other.
Control and exuberance
During their respective years of training, both painters learned to be rigorously disciplined, to create outlines and volumes by repeatedly drawing geometrical forms based on real models and plaster casts and to then execute them from memory. This constant practice taught them to be extremely observant. They realised that with a training of this kind they could then work in a freer and more intuitive manner. Examples of this freedom include Andrews Roaring Reef (1949), Study for roast Chestnuts (1956) and The Attic (1962). As he himself said, In order to break the rules you have to know them.
Performing short plays with costumes, playing jokes, creating miniature worlds and complicated stories and celebrating Halloween as the most important festival of the year are all traditions in the Wyeth family that had a major influence on Andrew and Jamie. Their affinity with the fantastical lies at the origin of works such as Dance of Death (1973) by Andrew or Rain of Meteorites (1993), which is one of Jamies most original creations, not just for its subject (a scarecrow dressed in a military coat of 1812 which both he and his father used in many of their works) but also for the valuable materials employed, given that Jamie borrowed a necklace from his mothers jewellery box and ground up its pearls to make a pigment that he used to paint the twinkling stars in the sky.