Friday, January 16, 2009

R.I.P.

Two of my favorite popular artists died today, John Mortimer and Andrew Wyeth. Mortimer was the creator of one of those indestructible characters who survive their own begettors and the books they were put in--like Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes and Superman. But he was more than that. He was a lawyer who stood for the best thing--law as a bulwark for the protection of civil liberties, a personal rebuttal to the lawyer joke. And one admires Wyeth for the same reasons one admired Frost: he wanted to go his own way and stand against the tide of the prevailing aesthetic and produce what he thought was great art. From my perspective--that of someone whose aesthetic in painting is congruent with Tom Wolfe's The Painted Word--he succeeded.

4 comments:

Nevid said...

I think the reaction, "Who knew he was still alive?" says a good deal. I find myself strongly tempted to make analogies between formalism in writing and painting. If the measure of "great art" is that technique is the paramount concern, then, sure, being known for having painted every blade of grass is a "great" thing. Beyond unassailable technique, though, and the view of one side that he was a rugged maverick for having bucked the tide of modernism, I don't think Andrew Wyeth was a great genius. A small genius, perhaps, of limited vision. I like Christina in the Grass as much as the next guy, but that and one or two other paintings pretty much define his oeuvre. Never mind that sentimentality doesn't have to come in brightly colored hues -- it can also come in the form of his repetitious bleakness. Anyway, compared to the great geniuses of the 20th century (and pardon me, I'm going to place Picasso at the head of the list) who were likewise brilliant formal drawers, but who broke the known visual world apart and remade it, over and over, so that now we see ("read") in their vocabularies, someone like Wyeth, for all his anachronistic charm, can only remain a curiosity. I think his paintings have a place -- but it's not the place of honor we reserve for the very greatest -- those who make the world we live in new, who change it so we never go back. Recursiveness alone doesn't = genius, to me. And there is my unsolicited 20p.
But it's sad the old guy croaked, all the same.

RHE said...

Well, someone was looking for an occasion to unload. I believe all I called him was, one "of my favorite popular artists." And I said I admired him. He was. I did. If he was being called "a great genius" or one of "the very greatest," you didn't hear it here.

As for Picasso, he reminds me of Pound--great innovators, great molders of their Age, in whose individual works I have almost no interest. I won't be rereading The Cantos any time soon. I won't be thumbing through Picasso's lithographs, either. I have Wyeth on my walls and Frost next to my desk. They matter more to me than Pound and Picasso, irrespective of the size of their geniuses.

Nevid said...

You know, if you type out what would take only a couple minutes to SAY, it looks like a diatribe -- a jeremiad. Sorry for "unload"ing -- you may be right. I've only got my computer back online recently, after a 5-day gap, and raving about Wyeth beats biting my nails and worrying about real-life things. Anyway, people who say that about Picasso just don't know his work -- there's lots of pretty images -- it's not all minotaurs and crosseyed hags. People always say that livability thing about the minor painters -- e.g. a Pisarro is "nice" for a living room. But, well, you know. Anyway, I like drawing every blade of grass, too. But I think of it as illustration. I'm stopping -- after all, this is no way to condole. I also have seizures when people tell me how they adore the pre-Raphaelites (sorry, Jack, if you still come round here).

RHE said...

I don't really see Wyeth as a photographic realist. I don't think he numbers the feathers on the sparrow or the blades of grass. A realist, to be sure; but a naturalist or a photographer? I don't think so.