The Painter From Maine

“One’s art only goes as deep as one’s love.”-Wyeth

As a girl, I fell in love with a painter from Maine.

Days, months, years of my childhood were spent in libraries, reading every art-related book I could get my hands on.

Eventually, or perhaps inevitably, deep in the towering shelves of fine art tomes I stumbled across the work of Andrew Wyeth, a humble contemporary American painter from the northeast coast. Even at 10, 11, 12, years of age, I was floored by his paintings. Lacking the life experience or wisdom to comprehend the gravity of his character studies or the realness of his Maine landscapes, there was still something lying in those raw, bucolic scenes that stole my heart.

“Airborne”

Too young to even begin to find the words, I was nevertheless aware of the feelings his work panged me with. I carried those sharp, bright, comforting affections throughout adolescence. In high school I plastered my binder with his self-portrait of two worn-down brown boots titled “Trodden Weed”, delighted in the fact that “Christina’s World” was prominent in Garth Ennison’s comic “Preacher”, and watched every documentary about him (on VHS) that I could find. I even discovered an old copy of Nat Geo that outlined the life and work of his family in the storage room of my high school art class that I still have, brittle and worn, on my bookshelf today.

“Trodden Weed”

Though I still struggle to find the words, I believe the heart of my love for his work lies in a sense of kinship, of hearing his brushstrokes saying, “Hey, you can look at this scene all you want—but do you feel it?” and me replying, “Yes, yes. Now I see—and more, I feel. I understand.” Every blade of grass painstakingly captured, soft muted grays emulating the moodiness of the battlescarred coast, stoic human figures beaming with life under lifeworn skin and tattered cloth. Vignettes frozen in egg tempura on paper and wood, crossing thresholds between worlds to share their stories.

The melancholic, comforting sense of home. Our time-spanning ties to land and sea and kin.

“Teel’s Island”

Wyeth just gets it.

Once the news broke that a retrospective of 100 of his paintings and drawings was coming to the Seattle Art Museum, I had to wait nearly two years for it to open—and damn was it worth the wait. To this day, it’s the most magical experience I’ve had with art.

 

 

Sharing space with these works in person, up close, allows you to get swept up in the textures, depth, expressive lines so wholly that at times it seems you could blow like a feather right out over that choppy sea he painted. I wish I could go back and revisit those pieces over and over and over again in person as I age, experiencing each painting from new perspectives, connecting differently, seeing more.

 

 

“Incoming Fog”

 

Standing in front of his work that day took me right back to sitting on the floor of the library 15 years prior. And still when I think back on those hours at the museum, I picture 12 year old Jenn standing there gazing up at “Trodden Weed”, at “Winter Fields”, enthralled and in love, those first fiery feelings from childhood still burning strong.

 

“Winter Fields”
“Winter Fields” detail

I’m not sure why it took me so long to share this experience. Probably because it felt so deeply personal, but also probably because even after all these years growing up viewing, studying, experiencing, loving his work, I still struggle to find the words to explain how fully it has captivated and influenced me.

“Master Bedroom” by Andrew Wyeth hanging in my old apartment above a sleeping Charlie.

But that’s kind of the point of visual art, isn’t it? Sometimes we can say so much more by showing, not telling.

 

Jenn

 

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