An Open Letter from Caroline Robe
13, December 2012 § Leave a comment
Dear John, Jane, and Jun– my lovely teachers from a year ago–
It is true that everything changes for the better after a time at the Aegean Center. Looking back one year ago we were hanging that final show. This week I am hanging my university’s final show. I can only hint at the personal growth, joy, and creative productivity that has occurred between the two. I know that this incredible moment, which is yet unfinished, began while I was on Paros immersed in what I can retrospectively see is one of the best and most unique communities that exist anywhere. Paros opened me to loving a place, loving a craft, and loving myself, and those lessons have continued to guide me as I make my way back in the States. Thanks to all of you for that.
I didn’t know it then but the time spent in Italy and watching Jane and Jun do their painting work gave me a strong interest in narrative and classical technique. When I came back in the winter I began studying egg tempera and have been working with it since then. I was also awarded a scholarship to go study fresco this summer, and now work in both. Early in the year I started on my Honors thesis, a year-long independent project in the student’s discipline. My thesis is the work I am hanging in the show and I will be defending it to my committee in two weeks time.
I wanted to share this with you because I feel it shows how much I absorbed while in Italy and Greece and the tremendous impact you have on your students. I think of you all and things you have taught me often. From you, John, I think of lessons about midtones, I am not even joking. I truly want to make the midtones in the paintings sing. I also think to really see things and appreciate. From you, Jane, I think of lessons about the figure, some tips on glazing, and how to be a woman and an artist all at once. From you, Jun, I remember many painting techniques learned, and I see how to be a young figurative painter with verve. All these lessons and more went into completing this project.
The painting project I conceived for my thesis is a narrative polyptych “afterpiece” in egg tempera. I wanted to explore the process and flow of bliss, vernacular space here in Orono, and feminine creative power. I started painting early this spring and finished last week. The painting is eight feet wide and five and half feet tall, structurally organized as a hinged triptych, with multiple paintings on each panel. There is silver leafing in the sky and I built the frame in a timber-frame style, learning much about carpentry! It is almost a house in itself. The center panel mimics annunciation paintings, but with a twist. The bottom panel is a hell montage inspired by Bosch. The outer two are symbolic landscapes compiled from my town here.
That’s all. I’m so happy to share this with you and to look back a year ago and remember it all.
As for the future, I am graduating in December, working on my portfolio this spring and summer, and headed out for residencies in the fall. I am applying to some in the states but really hoping to get over to Europe where I can learn more about the sort of painting I am interested in.
My best wishes to all of you, and thank you, thank you, thank you,
Paris Over the Holidays, part 1: The Wyeths
13, January 2012 § 3 Comments
During the holiday season in Paris there is a multitude of art exhibitions on display to tempt tourists and locals alike. As I was fortunate enough to be in Paris during the New Year’s festivities, I was able to enjoy a number of the shows and museums, indulging in artwork of all kinds. I will be writing three reviews of exhibitions I visited while in Paris, “The Wyeths: Three Generations of American Artists” at the Mona Bismark Foundation, “Beauty, Morals and Voluptuousness in the England of Oscar Wilde” at the Musée d’Orsay and “Fra Angelico and the Masters of Light” at the Musée Jacquemart-André.
If one is determined, in a week they can cover a lot of ground in a city like Paris, where strolling is pleasant and the metro is easily accessible. The first exhibition I saw was “The Wyeths: Three Generations of American Artists” at the small and charming Mona Bismark Foundation, across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower. The show features the works of painter and illustrator, N.C. Wyeth, his son Andrew, perhaps the most important figurative American painter of the 20th century, and his grandson Jamie. The draw is quite rightly Andrew, but from the collected works we get an idea of the evolution of one of the truly great American artists and his family legacy.
The exhibition starts with bright, dramatic paintings by N.C. that were used to vividly illustrate stories such as Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe and King Arthur. N.C.’s paintings are bold and direct, depicting the tales of swashbuckling pirates, soldiers and knights. There is no ambiguity in NC’s pieces and his brushwork and color are always sure and confident. Perhaps the lack of subtlety in N.C.’s works may be cause for criticism, but it is clear that he was a painter of suberb technical skill and range. NC’s work is a helpful introduction to the formation of his son, Andrew. We could even find Andrew drawing in on of NC’s paintings, “Eight Bells” hunched over his drawing in N.C.’s lobster boat off the coast of Maine.
In contrast with N.C.’s colorful, almost theatrical paintings, Andrew’s works, mostly in egg tempera or watercolor, are by contrast subdued, still and personal. There are no classics in this exhibtion, no “Christina’s World,” but instead intimate depictions of Andrew’s immediate surroundings: his neighbors, his studio window, his barn, his boots, etc.
Around the time of his father’s death from a car crash in 1945, Andrew’s color palette changes, and gone are the vivid blues and reds of his earlier watercolors, replaced with muted browns and grays. Andrew’s ability to capture his subjects in fine detail is breathtaking. Yet, in their balance, design and tone, it is the compostional arrangements in Andrew’s paintings which sustain the viewer, elevating his pieces from being simply well observed landscapes and portraits, to poetic and intensely personal works. When we see his paintings we get a sense of seeing not just through the eye of Andrew Wyeth, but through his temperament and sensibilities. In so doing we get a sense of the man himself.
After Andrew, the show continues with the paintings of his son, Jamie. If the Wyeth show were a three course meal, then N.C.’s contribution would be a spicy beef tataki appetizer, Andrew’s would be an aromatic and delicately prepared salmon fillet with herbs and Jamie’s would be a cheeseburger, some fishsticks, and a cheesecake for dessert. That is to say that there is a whole lot of Jamie’s work in the exhibition, and the range is wide, most of which are a far cry from the paintings of his father and grandfather. Jamie is a competent painter and he has works of true merit but they would do better in a personal retrospective only. In “The Wyeths” exhibition, it is a bit like having cheesecake after one has reached a sufficiency.
“The Wyeths: Three Generations of American Artists” is a show that doesn’t have enough work from its star draw, but his pieces alone are worth the trip. N.C.’s works are enjoyable and Jamie’s portraits are worthy of note, but ultimately, “The Wyeths” highlights Andrew Wyeth as the supreme painter of his renowned family. The exhibition is a fine example of the power of the subdued. N.C.’s paintings are dynamic. Jamie has many of all kinds. Yet, Andrew with only a select few watercolors, egg temperas and drawings makes the biggest impact.