Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Spiritual whammies

This week, my last in Maine, I've been unabashedly a tourist. Monday I went down to the Fairmont Museum in Rockland, to see the Andrew Wyeths and incidentally some other stuff. I became disgusted all over again with whatever New Yorker critic it was who reviewed the Wyeth retrospective and some irritating conceptual guy in the same article. He spent three quarters of the article extolling the virtues of the conceptual guy, whose signature piece was eight full-size resin casts of himself, in various poses of auto-adoration, entitled, "Oh, Charlie, Charlie, Charlie, Charlie." I patiently endeavored to keep an open mind, until I got to the three petty, terse paragraphs tacked on to the end, which were equally dismissive of Wyeth and the hordes of people lined up around the block to see him.

Okay, so maybe Andrew Wyeth's work doesn't push the boundaries of what 'art' could be. Perhaps it is flat, boring, predictable and bland. Perhaps it does 'reproduce better than it looks in person.' Certainly most of the artists who paint pictures of boats and hills and buoys and figures and random Maine flotsam, who are NOT Andrew Wyeth, can be slotted into this category.

But in my HUMBLE opinion, Andrew Wyeth achieves 'mastery of technique and transcendence of subject matter,' which is my personal yardstick for artistic success. Yes, they're pictures of boats and landscapes and figures. The early ones in particular are virtually indistinguishable from anything at a random plein-air kitsch art fair. But the more Andrew Wyeth paints, the more the nervous, edgy, obsessive, piercing, penetrating, secretive nature of his soul peers through, and the more intense and even alarming becomes the result. That works for me.

I feel sorry for Jamie, however. The poor man is sixty this year, and from what I saw at the Wyeth Museum, he's still painting like a talented but confused twenty-five-year-old. He's stranded in the indecision between commitment, experimentation, fantasy and release. A few of the paintings were amazing; the rest of them were divided between competent studies and ambitious failures. I can identify with that.

For myself, I finally gave up all notion of this being a 'working vacation.' Instead I am re-connecting with my sense of wonder, and coming to terms with the fact that I'd lost it in the first place. After three weeks I am able to wake up and just be with the light. Walking to the herb patch to get chives every morning is a momentous experience, what with the billions of diamonds on the grass, and crouching forest and exultant fauna and teeming waters and whatnot. I recall this. Intellectually I've known that it is always there. I've just been numbly unable to access it for, oh, I don't know how long.

When I was about twenty-seven, I fell in love with a serious Zen Buddhist. Simultaneously I started working out a lot, and meditating, and eschewing most meat, dairy, alcohol, and other mind-fuzzing substances. Also I kept re-reading "Anne of Green Gables."

The upshot of all of this was, that colors gleamed, shadows deepened, light became crystalline, and I wandered around in a state of besotted, childlike amazement much of the time. Some of my friends at the time--well, a lot of them--found this annoying. Oh, they said it was great. But when the whammies started happening, one after another, a lot of them vanished.

I suspect that whenever a person makes a leap in consciousness, there is usually a corresponding toxic fallout. You have to cope with all the ways you've been lying to yourself before, all the habits you have that sabotage you, all the relationships which don't support you. Toxic fallout is not fun. Sometimes you find yourself vomiting copiously, sometimes your lover abandons you, sometimes you wind up homeless and half of your former friends say you make them 'uncomfortable.' Sometimes all of these things happen at once.

And when you commit to a lifetime of spiritual growth, sometimes, I think, these sorts of whammy episodes tend to happen at regular intervals. So much so that when you start apprehending the billions of diamonds again, something inside you cringes and waits for the other shoe to drop. Which obviates the diamonds and leaves you in a fearful, suspended limbo. And, incidentally, unable to artistically produce, since you're not taking in enough to feed it.

So the battery is beginning, just beginning to re-charge. I don't know how long it will take. It may take years. I think I have to work on being fine with that.


painterdog said...

Andrew Wyeth was one of the forst artist that got me into painting.

I think he can be an great sometimes and others very dull.

His watercolors are the best for me.

The tempra's get over worked.

He can draw with such focus. The difference, as you pointed out,between the people who copy his style is the sponinaity of his process.

Look at his skecthes and you can see he is thinking all the time. Taking chances, sometimes failing.

The Wyeth family is very wealthy, private jet and all that, being his Andrew's son must be strange. I don't think I would want that kind of legacy.

Fathers and sons...

Ravi Coltrane has figured it out, his music, while it has some of his fathers infulence, has become his own and he sounds great.

I think Bo Bartlett has taken from the Wyeth thing and done some interesting paintings.

Chris Rywalt said...

Oh, good god, thank you, Painterdog. I have been trying to remember Bo Bartlett's name for months, maybe even a couple of years, with no success.

I saw his gallery in Philadelphia a few years back, and when I started blogging in the art world I wanted to find him again and see when or if he'd be showing. Maybe drop by his place in Philly. Something.

But over time I tend to lose names and Websites. And I had totally forgotten Bo Bartlett. I put search terms into Google in an attempt to dig him back up, but to no avail.

So thank you thank you thank you.

WhatsAPundit said...

Art speaks to me when it is on the edge of becoming. Andrew Wyeth and Edward Hopper's best paintings always seem to be on the cusp of what was and what will be. Still lifes, but with energy and history and future.

(A. Wyeth always struck me as being similar to Hopper, but without the wrist-slitting.)

<uneducated_blather>The stuff that gets the big write-ups always seems to be pale commentaries on what the current consensus is within the art commentariat about what art should be. A real work of art is something that lives on its own, without needing to be a commentary on anything at all.


serena said...

Pundit, if that's uneducated blather, you should blather more often. It strikes me as remarkably perspicacious, but perhaps that's because I educated you. ;-)

reinopower said...

i have always loved wyeth myself. I must confess though i may never have seen a work in person.
on a side note i am moving to brooklyn in December. I'll keep reading and looking at old posts.

serena said...

Have you seriously considered this move, reinopower? Because I notice on your blog that you struggle with feelings of futility and depression. Brooklyn is not the sort of place that helps with that. Although it can become lovely if you have the patience, humility and tenacity to make it work.

At any rate, I welcome you.