Jamie Wyeth: Painting Contemporary American History
The Wyeths: Three Generations | Works from the Bank of America Collection filled TMA’s galleries with images reflecting more than a century of life in the eastern U.S. Photo by Julius Schlosburg.
The upcoming Fourth of July holiday inspires both personal reflection and dialogue about the American experience. This brings to mind the way TMA began the year: with a feature exhibition of works by three generations of American painters in The Wyeths: Three Generations | Works from the Bank of America Collection. The main level galleries were filled with images reflecting the family’s experiences over more than a century in the eastern U.S.
Andrew Wyeth’s paintings follow the American Realist tradition. He was influenced by the works of Winslow Homer, his father N.C. Wyeth and Howard Pyle. Photo by Julius Schlosburg
Jamie Wyeth (b. July 6, 1946), of the third generation of Wyeth family artists, has painted a variety of subjects related to contemporary American history. During the 1960s, he was invited by NASA and the National Gallery of Art to participate in the Eyewitness to Space program. Artists were given complete access to Cape Kennedy and the Houston Space Center to capture the emotional impact of the space program. In the 1970s, Harper’s Magazine commissioned Jamie to cover the Watergate trials and congressional hearings. No photographers were allowed in the courtroom, so court artists’ depictions comprise the visual record of the momentous event. His many commissions for presidents and federal entities include a 2000 painting of the White House for its 200th birthday.
Jamie Wyeth, September 11, 2001, mixed media on toned board. Bank of America Collection. Installation photo by Willo Art.
September 11th (2001) was commissioned for the cover of The New York Observer’s September 24th edition. The painting focuses on the efforts of the rescue workers at Ground Zero. Included are a volunteer, a medical attendant, a firefighter, a police officer and a German shepherd. The workers are depicted raising the flag, inspired by the iconic World War II photograph Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima by Joe Rosenthal.
In One Nation: Views of American History with N.C. Wyeth and James Wyeth, Wyeth explains: “I went to Ground Zero. It was a couple of days after the tragedy, and smoke was still pouring out of the rubble. I watched the rescue workers search for survivors and found the entire scene chilling yet at the same time the determination of the workers inspired me.” Wyeth found the experience to be cathartic, and he went on to say, “Now I know how my grandfather must have felt doing all of those War Bond illustrations. When something of this magnitude happens, you feel helpless. This gave me some purpose. At least I felt I contributed in some way.”
Jamie Wyeth, Patriot’s Barn, 2001, mixed media on toned board. Bank of America Collection. Installation photo by Willo Art.
After the September 11 attacks, Wyeth was driving along the country roads in Pennsylvania’s pastoral Brandywine Valley when he saw a white barn with a huge American flag painted on it. The barn sat on a hill surrounded by a field of green, with the flag reflected in a pond at the bottom of the hill. He immediately decided to paint it, calling it Patriot’s Barn. “I had to record this stunning image,” he told the Saturday Evening Post. “My painting is simply recording my life and my thoughts, as if I were doing a diary.”
While a viewer of Jamie Wyeth’s works might initially wonder if they are oil, watercolor or tempera paintings (egg tempera was a favorite medium of some of the other Wyeth artists), many are, in fact, mixed media. This is true of Patriot’s Barn. His mixed media works may be a combination of many things: watercolor, gouache, ink, varnish and more. He enjoys experimenting with different materials in order to create certain effects. He often paints on toned boards that are shaded tan or light brown, preferring to work both lighter and darker from this middle ground. He enjoys working on cardboard: both the color of the board and its ridged texture appeal to the artist.
In the book Dog Days (2007) Wyeth wrote: “I always felt that you shouldn’t be limited by your medium, and I think when people say ‘watercolor’ they see in their mind’s eye some washes and color. I now work watercolor like oil. I use it straight out of the tube, very thick, and patched on. That sort of thrills me—I love that you can push the medium and treat it as oil. So combining mediums is intriguing to me. In my studio, I have pastels lying on the floor, I have watercolor, oil, charcoal, and I like jumping back and forth.”
Wednesday – Sunday,
10 am – 5 pm