Thursday, January 6, 2011

Wood's Influence, Continued

Last Thursday’s exploration of the environment surrounding Wood and the Regionalists provided many answers, but in the end my brief research lead to more questions. Continuing forward in history, today I investigated two American artists whose work shows ties to the ideas and subject matter of Regionalism.

On Sunday, the Smithsonian American Art Museum closed its exhibit "Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell From the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg." The exhibit featured 57 works by Rockwell and drew over 700,000 viewers during the six months it was on view.

Like Grant Wood, Rockwell cherished childhood summers in the country and drew on these memories for later paintings. He began drawing as a young boy and left high school in 1909 to pursue art at the National Academy of Design. At only 22, the illustrator was published on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. The Post continued to feature his illustrations for four decades. Once again recalling Wood, Rockwell painted murals and his artistic talent served his country as a military artist during WWI.

Widely popular (so I won’t get into too much description), Rockwell is known for his cheerful depictions of small-town American life. In the 1960s he began to illustrate for Look Magazine, where his drawings became both more personal and political. During the ten years he worked for Look, his subject matter included civil rights, poverty, and space travel.

The idealized, loyal illustrations of Norman Rockwell undeniably resemble the patriotic themes of Regionalism. Steven Spielberg said of his Rockwell collection, "I look back at these paintings as America the way it could have been, the way someday it may again be." To me, his statement sounds like a way to describe the work of Grant Wood.

Another popular illustrator working during the time of Norman Rockwell was N.C. Wyeth. The Wyeths were a family of artists, and N.C. had a son Andrew who became famous for his paintings. Andrew Wyeth, sometimes called “Painter of the People,” worked in a regionalist style until his death in 2009. Wyeth is most famous for his painting “Christina’s World,” a portrait of his disabled neighbor crawling through a field because she chose not to use a wheelchair.

Like the Regionalists, Wyeth championed America and scorned Modernism. Wyeth “was also a vocal patriot, which… dovetailed with a general sense that his art evoked a mythic rural past embedded in the American psyche,” wrote Michael Kimmelman for the NY Times.

Wyeth painted his family and friends as well as the Pennsylvania and Maine landscapes that surrounded him. When the bohemian artist lifestyle became trendy, Wyeth rebelled by exhibiting the more traditional behavior of the Regionalists. A 1963 journalist described his work: “In today’s scrambled-egg school of art, Wyeth stands out as a wild-eyed radical. For the people he paints wear their noses in the usual place, and the weathered barns and bare-limbed trees in his starkly simple landscapes are more real than reality.”

In explaining the meaning behind his work, Wyeth also describes the beautifully mysterious qualities in many Regionalist landscapes and portraits. “Let’s be sensible about this. I put a lot of things into my work which are very personal to me. So how can the public feel these things? I think most people get to my work through the back door. They’re attracted by the realism and they sense the emotion and the abstraction — and eventually, I hope, they get their own powerful emotion.”

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