"I work in drybrush when my emotion gets deep enough into a subject. I paint with a smaller brush, dip it into color, splay out the brush and bristles, squeeze out a good deal of the moisture and color with my fingers so that there's only a very small amount of paint left. It's a weaving process - one applies layers of drybrush over and within the broad washes of watercolor. And I sometimes throw in pencil and Higgins' ink.”
This month we presented Andrew Wyeth. In our class we talked about the importance of stories in art. We showed them a few of Wyeth's better known works and asked them to tell us what was happening in the story and how they felt about the piece. Once we told a bit about the people depicted and their relationship with the artist, the paintings took on an entire new meaning.
His work reminds me of another watercolorist, Steve Hanks. Steve is another artist who tells stories through his paintings. A lot of the subjects are his wife and chidlren. He depicts their life together letting you in a bit to catch a glimpse of the intimacy. You can see more of his images here.
I had an art gallery in Laguna Beach 17+ years ago. We sold art, but it was because we knew the artists personally and had a story with every piece in the gallery. The better the stories, the more popular the artist. Our connection with the artists came through as we told people about their art.
Andrew Wyeth painted portraits. They were not your typical portrait - sit there, turn your head types of portraits. They were a portrait of that person's life - sometimes interior, sometimes exterior portraits combined with landscapes. The piece below is, "Christina's World." This one greatly affected the class.
The woman in the painting is Christina Olson (3 May 1893–27 January 1968). She is known to have suffered from polio, a muscular deterioration that paralyzed her lower body, although other diagnoses, in particular Charcot–Marie–Tooth disease, are also possible. Wyeth was inspired to create the painting when he saw her crawling across a field while watching from a window in the house. Wyeth had a summer home in the area and was on friendly terms with Olson, using her and her younger brother as the subject of paintings from 1940 to 1968. Although Olson was the inspiration and subject of the painting, she was not the primary model — Wyeth's wife Betsy posed as the torso of the painting. Olson was 55 at the time Wyeth created the work.
The house depicted in the painting is known as the Olson House, and is located in Cushing, Maine. It is open to the public, operated by the Farnsworth Art Museum; it is a National Historic Landmark, and has been restored to match its appearance in the painting. In the painting, Wyeth separated the house from its barn and changed the lay of the land.
In 1977 the art historian Robert Rosenblum called Wyeth "both the most overrated and underrated artist of our century", an interesting statement that needs a little picking apart. I think Rosenblum might mean that those who dismiss his work as sentimental and overly dependent on technique are missing the emotional depth, and the very unsentimental depiction of death's foreboding in everyday life. And perhaps some of Wyeth's ardent fans are overly impressed by the intensity of detail, and the ever-present sense of nostalgia for the slower pace of life in the past.
The production for this artist involved texture. We had printed sheets with simplified pieces by Wyeth. We had a pile of textures to go under the paper and colored pencils. This could have gone quickly or very slowly. The latter is what happened with the fifth graders. They took the textures and colors quite seriously - usually. One or two even enhanced the stories with current topics. It was... interesting as you saw above with Christina's World.