Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Like Father Like Son

Indian Ambush- sketch by Andrew Wyeth

Years ago I came upon a copy of the October 1965 issue of American Heritage that contained an essay and portfolio on the work of illustration giant N.C. Wyeth. On the last page, son Andrew who's fame and accomplishment as an artist would eventually eclipse that of his father recounted his informal art lectures at the feet of N.C..
Such instruction  was typically general such as describing "the quality of folds in a drapery and the way light comes across it. But once young Andy was drawing an Indian ambush (see above) and his father showed him what was wrong: the [natives] had taken over the entire picture, obscuring the mounted soldier whose danger was the point of the drawing. In a quick pencil sketch (see below) the elder Wyeth brought the imperilled rider more to the foreground and hid his attackers behind the trees.

Revised Indian Ambush sketch by N.C. Wyeth

Of his father N.C, Andrew said "we had a remarkable friendship, of course he was my only teacher, and he was a wonderful, remarkable person. When he died, I was just a clever watercolorist- lots of swish and swash. When he died- well- now I was really on the spot and had this terrific urge to prove that what he started in me was not in vain." 
It is evident in this rough sketch the level of skill N.C. possessed as he so easily corrected the flawed composition. The fact that the drawing survived is proof of this lesson's impact on his son. Andrew learned well and, I think through him and grandson Jamie, the Wyeth tradition turned out just fine .


Kenney Mencher said...

I went to the Wyeth museum a while ago and his paintings (N.C.'s) were the for me the most engaging bunch. I remember reading once that Stephen King said he was trying to do in words what Wyeth and Pyle were doing in paint.

Greg Newbold said...

I've been to the Brandywine museum twice and I have to agree that I enjoyed N.C.'s paintings the most. Nothing wrong with Andrew or Jamie's work, but something about the elder Wyeth's work always sucks me in. I think it's the narrative that is so compelling. I can see where King would feel the same.

Kenney Mencher said...

Yes. I agree. I think that part of it is that the work is so specifically telling a story, but, not always exactly the story in the text. I've been collecting some of the reprints of the NC Wyeth books. I remember reading once that N.C. was taught by Pyle to paint what wasn't described in the text. I love that idea that he is literally illuminating and adding his own take on the story. I think that's why his paintings are so interesting to engage with. He was a great story teller and had incredible skills as someone who knew the nuts and bolts of drawing and painting.

Greg Newbold said...

Kenny, Pyle had it right and I totally agree. Part of the fun of painting narrative work is trying to add something to the text. Whenever I take on a picture book, I like to see what I can add to the story through little details or situations that flesh out what is in the text. It makes for a much more satisfying experience.