Friday, January 16, 2009

Looking Backward: Andrew Wyeth, 1917-2009

Robert Hughes points out that Wyeth's Christina's World is as ubiquitous a piece of Modern American art as Grant Wood's American Gothic--although the latter leans more toward the ironic, and I prefer the profound sentimentality of Wyeth's painting. I have a print of it in my dining room: I had given it away to someone dear, who framed it beautifully, and then dearly re-gifted it. We have not seen Karen for about twenty-five years, but her painting reminds me of her every day--and Christina models Karen a bit--and vice versa, the two of them taking turns in the field.

Christina's World resonates on the screen, as well. Two years ago I noted its influence on Terry Gilliam's Tideland--and every so often we can elsewhere see Christina sliding gently into view:

Ponette (1996)
The little girl's mother has died, and her tears blur her vision, until she finds herself wandering in a dream of grief and longing.

Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
Harold Crick hears the far-off sound of his own unreality, and stares into the middle distance, giving us the look that must have been on Christina's face.

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1968)
Deaf and mute, John reaches out, and touches, but the returning hand brushes his cheek too softly for him to feel he can remain.

The Thin Red Line (1998)
Even Guadalcanal in 1943 provides Christina an opportunity to appear--and it isn't just the wind-swept fields, but Terrence Malick's lowering camera, finding small flowers, insects, the secret world thrumming on, almost inaudible, but thriving.

With Edward Hopper and William DeBernardi, Wyeth is among my most dependable visualizers of American spaces. Only one of them remains--still hale and hearty, Bill, knock wood three times--but so do the pictures, plain and deep and helping me see.

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