Review by: Julia Seel
“Painting to me is a matter of truth and memory”. – Andrew Wyeth
This quote, from a taped interview with Andrew Wyeth, opens the film Wyeth. Friends and family, additional interviews, news clips, and the script of the film confirm this sentiment. Do not confuse truth and memory for realism and neutral reporting, however. The reason for his massive success is the personality and feeling Wyeth considerately included in each painting. Wyeth was able to live, and support a family, off of his art. Wyeth had as much critical success as he did financial. Betsy Wyeth became an art manager almost as soon as she married Andrew, which allowed Wyeth to produce non-stop his entire adult life.
(photo credit: Bruce Webber)
The film Wyeth goes into the family history, formal training, and personal influences that shaped Wyeth. The visuals saturate the screentime, giving precise examples during interviews and informing the viewer of style changes. Drone and still footage of a farm in Pennsylvania, a shack in Maine show what inspired Wyeth for fifty years. Faithful art photography follows sketch to sketch to drawing to painting, pointing out the emotions that became light.
By watching so many images, the viewer can see how Wyeth’s incredibly realistic technique depicts imagined scenes. Memory, not a model, gives the meaning of a painting. Wyeth’s striking compositions and stark expansive spaces allow his intentions to stretch from an observed day into the past that influenced how he observed a day. As an interviewed friend says about Wyeth’s paintings of his black friends, the paintings are hard to see when the viewer is aware of the struggles behind a texture.
(Photo credit: Peter Ralston)
Even without knowing the stories, any passing person understands Wyeth’s work without studying. During the rise of abstractionist expression, this ‘easy’ communication was considered pandering. Now, though, people view Wyeth’s work as evocative.
The film Wyeth goes into much greater detail; to include everything I personally took note of would be to reproduce the film entirely. I recommend Wyeth for anyone who studies emotion, art, or the mind.
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