Reviewed by Jill
Timothy Standring’s Wyeth : Andrew & Jamie in the studio is the superb catalogue which accompanied the Denver Art Museum’s 2015-2016 exhibition of the same name. Through interviews with Jamie, with Wyeth models, and visits to the places significant to generations of the Wyeth family, particularly Andrews and son Jamie, we are treated to an engaging and personalised narrative. It is distinctly different from the myriad other works on the Wyeths in tone, structure and content. It’s rather like having your own intimate, guided tour of the exhibition.
The reader can approach this book in several ways: savour the images, consult the illustrated timeline, or read Standring’s detailed account. It is rather nice to shift from one to another. The timeline is valuable to readers new to the Wyeth generations. It is a distilled history, beginning with Andrew’s birth, revealing the influences on his oeuvre, and the unfolding of son Jamie’s artistic career. Thumbnail images accompany each milestone. It’s an economical way of providing a chronology. Here we note that Jamie is also an illustrator, the profession his grandfather had urged father Andrew to avoid. Standring is free to be relaxed, informal and contemporary in the main text, where the milestones appear in context, and in more detail..
‘Messy painting and fleeting moments’ – the main section – is unusual. It is a little like a diary, divided into subsections, each introduced by a ‘dateline’ – a date and location. The ‘diary entries’ are not consistently chronologically arranged. The date is incidental, purely factual, though it does give a sense of how long Standring was working towards this exhibition and catalogue. It is the location that is important. It indicates a meeting or a visit that is the springboard for subsequent events, anecdotes and discussions. The journey to Monhegan Island leads to one of Jamie’s many studios, and an insight into his working methods. A visit to Jamie’s assistant in her business office, with its storage rooms crowded with stuffed animals leads us onto another aspect – the stories behind some of the paintings. A notable one was Jamie’s interest in painting a pig that hated snow. It modelled for him, safely indoors by the warmth of a heater. He was called away, and returned to find that the pig had eaten all his paints. The end results of this ad-hoc meal were rather colourful. Some pig! Jamie’s comment on an artist’s day is apposite: ‘…notwithstanding your efforts, most results turn into a dog’s dinner, and only a few succeed as brilliant visual statements’ (61).
Other diary entries examine Andrew’s working methods and philosophy, the subjects he favoured, and the relationship between father and son. It is nice to know that Andrew experienced ‘white fright’ – the hesitation and fear of confronting fresh white paper. The enduring impact of NC Wyeth, Carolyn Wyeth and Howard Pyle surfaces here and there., It is a clever method of informing and suits the relaxed, intimate and casual tone of the book.
The images are top-quality. It is possible to discern brushstrokes, marks and colour changes, no matter what media were used. Standring refers to specific techniques, and we can see the backruns in a watercolour, or the change from tempera to oil. And there are generous numbers of images – the Exhibition of course. The four studies for ‘Faraway’ permit a glimpse into the mind of the artist. The studies leading up to ‘The virgin’ show how Andrew altered the composition and scale, perhaps in response to fears of what his wife might think! These preliminary works were tools, often tossed onto the floor, covered with paw prints, yet we cherish them for their beauty and immediacy. They are part of the lifecycle of a work.
Of course, the reader may start to compare the output of father and son. There are some startlingly similar works, and some incredible divergences. Each had his own subjects, his own method of working, and his own studios. Sometimes they collaborated. On occasion they produced, independently, similar works. Their works exhibit a directness, and at times, a quirkiness. Jamie may be teasing his father with his 1965 ‘Bathtub’, which Standring has juxtaposed with Andrew’s 1954 ‘Teels Island’. All images are also replicated in the exhibition checklist, accompanied by the essential data of dimensions and medium.
Wyeth : Andrew & Jamie in the studio is an excellent title, because this is exactly where the reader is taken. We see the studios, remarkably similar in some ways – paintings and references on the floor, and equipment set out, awaiting the artist’s hand. We see their creative processes as a continuum, father and son, and the influences of the ones before them.
Standring has referenced his sources, but this is not an academic tome. He addresses the reader, and we travel with him to locations and people significant to the Wyeths and the Denver exhibition. We read the conversations and exchanges of artist and author. Add this book to your collection.
By Timothy J. Standring