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Posts Tagged ‘Grant Wood’

Waking up this morning to find the first snow of the year on the ground. Not much, only a dusting, but enough to shine brightly through the darkness at 5:30 AM. Walking over to the studio, I was thinking about the snow scenes that I’ve been painting recently as a loose series. I normally only do these snow paintings once in a while but this series has felt great as I have been doing them, pulling me in immediately in the process. They have a mesmerizing effect that seems to come from the subtlety of the colors underlying the surface.

But today’s snow also reminded me of a couple of works from a favorite of mine, Grant Wood. I thought I’d revisit an entry from back in 2011 where I wrote about his winter scenes. I added a couple more images along with a bit of music title Grant Wood from the Turtle Island String Quartet that pays tribute to the artist.

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January– Grant Wood

I’ve expressed my admiration here for the work of Grant Wood more than once.  I find his imagery compelling, especially the way he creates mood and tension in what seem to be typical, mundane scenes.  His paintings and lithographs often have a wonderful rhythm throughout them that sings to me.  I see these qualities captured beautifully in a series of stone lithographs he created that capture the feeling of the winter months in quiet and moody tones.  The subtle shifts in the grays of the ink recreate the seasonal sense of atmosphere, a point illustrated wonderfully in this piece shown above, January.

February- Grant Wood

This print on the left, February, was completed in 1941 and has an ominous yet beautiful quality about it. I love the rhythm in its simple composition, from the patterned fields of the farm in the background to the placement of the dark figures of the horses to the three strands of barbed wire that cross the picture plane.  The way the dark horse in the foreground plays off the graded darkness in the right of the sky.  Just beautiful.

Maybe the foreboding nature of this print was an omen of Wood’s own death from pancreatic cancer the very next February.  He was born in February and died in February, one day short of his 51st birthday.  I am staggered by the work Grant Wood created in his relatively short life and wonder what might have been had he lived to a ripe old age.  I guess that doesn’t matter when he left such a rich legacy behind as it was.

Below, March is tour de force for the kind of rhythmic elements I’ve been describing.  The sway of the farm structures and the bare tree at the top of the frame.  The wagon and draught horse  riding in on the point of the winding path. The roll of the hills and the staccato rhythm of the fenceposts running upward.  Great stuff.  Instant inspiration…

March- Grant Wood



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Again, I am busy this morning but want to share something from one of my favorites and an influence on my work, Grant Wood. I’ve written about his work here in the past, about how his treatment of his landscapes really affected the way in which I approached my own. There is always such a great rhythm and a beautiful harmony of color and forms in his work. They seem like living beings.

The painting shown here on the right, Near Sundown, which was once owned by Katherine Hepburn, was a piece that really sparked me early on. The impression of it in my mind and memory still informs how I treat a lot of the elements in my own work.

This is a nice video with an interesting song backing it.  It’s a folk pop hit, Greenfields, from The Brother Four from back in 1960. It was a song that went all the way to #2 on the charts when it came out but it’s a song that I had never heard. Well, maybe I’ve heard it and just plain forgot it. That’s a definite possibility. It might not have been my first choice as the soundtrack for this video but it gives this a kind of neat, kitschy feel.

Give a look and enjoy the work of Mr. Wood. Have a great day.

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grant wood young cornI have written about Grant Wood here before.  Most  know him from American Gothic, the well-known painting of the somber farmer and wife and pitchfork in front of a neat farm home.  But for me,  I am totally enthralled by his landscapes, drawing heavy influence from the way his curvy hillocks and fields come to life within his compositions.  Whenever I am feeling less than inspired all I need to do is glimpse a Grant Wood landscape and I am filled with vigor, envisioning new work of my own that draws upon the same life force and rhythm that I am seeing in his work.

I think that Wood and I share  the same belief that the landscape is alive and is best represented by human curves and, looking at his work, it is easy to connect with the humanity beneath it.  I’ve included some of my favorite Grant Wood landscapes here including The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere with its nocturnal blue tint in its upper reaches.  It’s a bright and shining painting but you never doubt that it is a night scene.  That’s one of the other lessons that I drew from Wood– that you can represent things that are counter-intuitive if you paint them with that sense of rightness in your mind that allows it to see that thing in its essence, in its true nature.

It’s almost like seeing things through the eyes of a child.  Not quite but in that spirit.  For such a seemingly simple concept, it’s a difficult thing to get across.  Anyway, enjoy these pieces from the great Mr. Wood.  I know that they have filled me with inspiration already this morning.

Grant Wood Midnight Ride of Paul Revere Grant Wood Haying Grant Wood Stone City Iowa 1930 Grant Wood New Road Grant Wood fall plowing

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John Steuart Curry-- "Tragic Prelude" Mural depicting John Brown in Kansas

John Steuart Curry– “Tragic Prelude” Mural depicting John Brown in Kansas

One of my favorite genres of art is that of  American Regionalism.  You can lump painters like Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton  and  John Steuart Curry together as some of the  better known names in this group.  I am not particularly fond of the use of the word regionalist which seems to hint at some sort of narrow provincialism, a label that Eastern critics tried to pin on this Midwest-based movement of the 1930’s and 40’s.  But these painters and others who have been branded as Regionalists were not sentimental or naive.

In fact they espoused views that were often more aligned with progressive and socialist ideals.  Many of these artists were looking to make their work more accessible to the working class, something that they felt was lacking in the more elitist Modernist work of the time and simply used the landscape and people around them as the vehicle to convey these ideals.  This gave the work an inclusive populist quality that is especially appealing to me.  I like that their work is often simple to approach yet reveals so much more upon deeper inspection.

I have written about some of the more well known Regionalists such as Wood and Benton, as well as some of the lesser known names such as Alexander Hogue and Paul Sample but hope to shed some light in future posts on some of the more obscure names in this genre.

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Alexander Hogue- The Crucified Land  1939

Alexander Hogue- The Crucified Land 1939

Several years ago, I wrote a post about the work of Alexander Hogue, an American Regionalist painter whose work I felt was at the same level as that of Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton, though he never achieved the wider fame of these two.  I know I knew nothing of his work before stumbling across his name on the site of a gallery that I was associated with at the time in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Hogue had spent the last half of his long life, dying in 1994 at the age of 96.

Alexander Hogue- Mother Earth Laid Bare

Alexander Hogue- Mother Earth Laid Bare

His work was a stunning find for me.   The imagery is bold and powerful.  His color palette was strong and unique, with deep saturated colors often alongside ethereal, wispy colors .  His depictions of the southwestern landscape possess a profound sense of place and spirit, filling what might seem like an otherwise desolate scene with a quality of humanity.  His dust bowl scenes from the 30’s are spectacular visions.

Alexander Hogue --Eroded Lava Badlands Alpine 1982

Alexander Hogue –Eroded Lava Badlands Alpine 1982

So, I was thrilled when I read that the exhibit, Alexander Hogue: An American Visionary was opening this week at the Rockwell Museum of Western Art in nearby Corning.  The Rockwell is an unexpected gem for the visitor to this region, a treasure trove of the largest collection of Western art east of the Mississippi where Hogue’s wonderful work will feel at home, although I feel his work is powerful enough to stand among any painter from the last century.  This exhibit displays work from across the many years of his long career, with works from the 1920’s up to near the end of his life.  Hogue worked until his death, which I find reassuring.

Here’s a video from  the show’s curator, Susan Kalil. I love how she describes the attachment of the owners of Hogue’s paintings to the work. I really urge you, if you are in the Corning area this fall, to stop into the Rockwell to see this show.

 

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Andrew Wyeth -Mother Archie's Church 1945

Andrew Wyeth -Mother Archie’s Church 1945

We went to Cooperstown this past Monday to catch the last day of the Wyeth Family exhibit at the Fenimore Art Museum.  It was a great show featuring work from patriarch NC Wyeth,   son Andrew, grandson Jamie, daughter Henriette and daughter Carolyn as well as Henriette’s husband, Peter Hurd and NC’s primary influence Howard Pyle.  That’s a lot of talent to jam into a relatively intimate space.  You might think that it would be less than satisfying but the curating of this show was masterful, showing each artist in a truly representative manner that gave a real taste of their body of work.   Just a wonderful show.  I am glad I got to see it  if only to see a few of NC Wyeth’s gorgeous works and to discover more about his son-in-law, Peter Hurd, whose work is wonderful, bringing to mind the regionalist painters such as Grant Wood.

Thomas Cole- The Course of Empire- Destruction

Thomas Cole- The Course of Empire- Destruction

Of course, there was also the spectacular Thaw Collection of American Indian Art to see.  As always, it was a thrill to see the beautiful aesthetic of the native culture.  And as good as both the Wyeth show and the Thaw Collection were, I was truly bowled over by the current show, The Hudson River School: Nature and the American Vision, featuring works from the Hudson River painters of the 19th century,  Just beautiful and strong examples from the genre, highlighted for me by the works of Asher Durand and the spectacular Thomas Cole series of five paintings, The Course of Empire , which features the rise and fall of an empire in the landscape, a rocky peak with a precariously perched boulder standing as a constant witness.  You have probably seen some of the paintings from this series but to see them together  in their full scale is to really get a great appreciation for their power.  It hangs at the Fenimore until September 29, so if you can, take a trip and see some incredible work.

 

Cole, Course of Empire - Savage State 1834 Cole, Course of Empire - Arcadia, Pastoral State 1834 Cole, Course of Empire - Consummation of Empire 1835 Cole, Course of Empire - Desolation 1836

 

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Once again, I came across a painter from the past of which I knew absolutely nothing.  That is nothing new but when I first saw these paintings I was shocked he was unknown to not only me but to most other people as well.  Actually, his biography is pretty thin in content but the sheer power of his work makes up for it. 

 His name was Thomas Chambers and he was born in England in 1808, probably training there as a decorative painter for the theatres of London.  He popped up in the States, in New Orleans, in 1832, filing for American citizenship.  Over the next few decades he moved along the Atlantic Coast and New England working as a landscape and marine painter as well as a fancy painter, meaning that he also painted  objects such as mirrors and furniture in a decorative fashion.  After the death of his wife in 1866, he returned to England, where he died in 1869.  He never really prospered as an artist, just scraping by for most of his life.  He died in an English poorhouse.

All of that seemed impossible to believe when I first saw his work.  It was unlike anything I had seen from that era.  They felt like folk art but with a stylized sophistication that displayed a distinct and fresh voice.  They seemed so modern, feeling to me as though they were perhaps 75 years before their time.  The colors were powerful.  The forms were stylized and rhythmic, the skies often having wonderful whirls of clouds and light.  Looking at some of these landscapes, I could believe that they were influenced by some of my heroes such as Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood even though I know that this is impossible because of their age.  I wondered if some of the more modern painters had come across his work or if his work was merely a similar artistic evolution, just earlier, isolated in time.

It’s hard to believe that this work was practically unknown until around 1940 when a group of his paintings were found in upstate NY.  How something this dynamic and modern in feel could slide by unnoticed is a mystery.  The first major museum exhibit of Chambers’ paintings was only held in late 2009/early 2010 at the American Folk Art Museum in NYC. 

There’s a good article from the NY Times that offers a good overview of Chambers’ life as well as a review of this museum show that I found very interesting, particularly when the author, Roberta Smith, writes about the works included in this exhibition of other painters who were better known contemporaries of Chambers, such as Thomas Cole and William Matthew Prior.  She writes:  This exhibition includes landscapes by other artists, including Cole, Thomas Doughty and William Matthew Prior, but don’t be surprised if you pass them by. Chambers’s work may lack the historic pedigree and national symbolism, say, of Cole’s paintings, but on the wall, it’s no contest.

As I said, potent stuff.  I’m hoping to find out more about Chambers but for now I am basking in these rich images. 

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