“I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape — the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show.” - Andrew Wyeth
I grew up just miles away from the historic Brandywine River Valley in Pennsylvania, one region in the northeast where the three-generational Wyeth family of artists and illustrators worked. In addition to a collection at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Maine, the Wyeth's art collection is preserved in our beloved Brandywine River Museum, located near several landmarks that often appear in their body of work. Growing up in the exact surroundings that appeared on several canvases in the collection, it is probable that the Wyeths were the first visual artists who influenced me via shared intimacy with their subjects.
Andrew's work has always intrigued me the most. It is no surprise to me that Andrew prefers Winter and Fall, as many of his paintings depicted the essence of those seasons. Just seeing one of his paintings instantly makes me pine for my rural Pennsylvania surroundings with a fireplace, rugged boots, and rustic outerwear. However, his landscapes and compositions are also injected with lonely tones of seasonal light. Further, they may offer the viewer an inkling that there is a story or a mystery lurking just behind a stone barn or off in the distance beyond a bank of snow. As a result, his paintings can also seem strange, even unsettling, at times.
Imagine my surprise when that same strange and unsettled sensibility I get when I look at the scenes in his work came to me Saturday morning when I was in urban Washington Square Park, NYC. The day was a sunny one, but all around me were crunchy, dead leaves and the earthy scents of Fall. There was tangible flux and weight to the air, and heavy shadows of limited light passed quickly over the buildings. Even in a busy public park sitting with friends on a bench, there was a peculiar sense of loneliness. Strange.
I also relate to Andrew's concept of "bone structure of the landscape" and can see how this image is a macro image for our micro experience in our own bone structures. We might sense the effects of the current seasons in our bodies; our hair becomes brittle, our skin gets dry, our moods are heavier, and our sleeping patterns might be altered. Therefore, we also become unsettled.
In addition to "dead", "lonely", "strange", "unsettled", the transition between late Fall and Winter might also be described as fragile, but perhaps delicate is a better word. Delicate implies intricacy. Delicacy also sounds deliberate, as the change of seasons, the unfolding of Winter's tales must be.
Personally, I have always struggled with late Fall and Winter in terms of cooler temperatures and shorter days, but the idea that I could be walking through an Andrew Wyeth landscape (an urban version, of course) brings me a new excitement for the season ahead. Donning my rugged boots, I will walk along and tune into the delicate changes in my own bones, as shared with the bone structure of nature. What tale lurks for me under the snow? Or behind that leafless tree? What is awaiting me underneath my footsteps on the cold earth?
Browse some images of Andrew Wyeth's work and share your impressions of the worlds he paints. One of my favorites is his piece which accompanies this post, Trodden Weed (1951)
- TaraMarie Perri