Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Chair inside the Olson House, an homage to Andrew Wyeth

11 x 14", acrylic on gessoed birch panel
painting #250, 2017

I first became acquainted with the Farnsworth Art Museum located in beautiful Rockland Maine back in 1998 when we made our way for a brief vacation in Maine to visit the newly opened Farnsworth Center for the Wyeth Family. Andrew Wyeth's masterpiece "Christina's World" was on loan from the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in NYC and the painting was revisiting Maine for the first time in 50 years. The Olson House located in Cushing, Maine is the setting for the painting. It is currently owned by the Farnsworth Museum. 

The Olson House, Cushing, Me, June 2014.

Andrew Wyeth was introduced to Christina Olson while vacationing in Maine in 1939 by his future wife, Betsy James, who's family home was close to the Olson farmhouse. Wyeth would entertain a friendship with her and her brother Alvaro for the remaining of their lives. She was afflicted with was is believe to be polio and was unable to walk from her early thirties. In a 2016 article published by Mail Online, it was suggested by a group of neurologists that she might have suffered from Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease.  

The inspiration for "Christina's World' occurred when Wyeth saw Christina crawling on her hands from the garden towards the house while he was painting in a studio he has set up on the third floor of the house. When Wyeth did the painting in 1948, Christina would have been in her mid-fifties. He would alter her features to a much younger woman, half her age keeping only her skinny arms and pink dress intact. This painting would become one of the most iconic images in American Art history. It has been both revered and shunned by critics.

I've visited the MOMA four times since 1994. My last visit dates back to December of 2015. Christina's World was on display oddly in a hallway instead of a prime gallery space. I recently read an article written by Henry Adams who explains a backlash against Andrew Wyeth after he was awarded a solo show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1976, a first for a living artist. Tables turned against Wyeth when controversy ensued during the organization of the exhibit. Click HERE to read.

Christina's World by Andrew Wyeth, MOMA, Dec. 2015.

The MOMA recently decided to change the original frame for a newer model that would better compliment the painting.   Click HERE to view this interesting clip. 

 When I visited the Olson House back in June 2014, the book that appears in my above painting was on a table. It was written by the artist's wife Betsy Wyeth and published in 1982I quickly flipped through it, placed it on the green chair and took a picture. Before starting this painting I bought another Wyeth book written by Laura Hoptman that was published by the MOMA. She writes about Christina's neuro-muscular condition, "She refused to use a wheel chair, preferring to scoot herself across the floor in a kitchen chair".

It was never my intention to paint this. It was only this past July when I looked back at all the photography I had taken at the house that a more personal narrative came to me when I cropped the image and removed the top rail. The remaining spindles reminded me of prison bars. The image on the book is also much darker than the original painting and with mostly browns rather than greens. 

My own mother Emma died back in the fall of 2006. The day before moving into a senior's apartment, she lost her balance while closing a door and fell to the floor. She had been living alone in her house ever since my father died three years earlier. She wasn't able to get up even if she had not broken any bone. Her sister would find her lying on the floor 18 hours later. She had several chronic ailments that emerged in the last four years of her life including severe osteoporosis in her spine and congestive heart failure. Her health was deteriorating rapidly. An underlying neurological condition was only diagnosed about 2 weeks before she died, which was an advanced stage of Parkinson's disease. In the months leading to her passing, so could no longer walk or eat without assistance. She was confined to her chair all day in a nursing home. Being myself a registered nurse, I was faced with the eventuality of discussing with her what was her wishes in the event that her heart should stop. During this heart to heart talk, we came to the conclusion even if she was still very lucid, her once strong body was now abandoning her. Her spirit was now trap in a body that had turned into a prison. Much like Christina Olson, they both died at the age of 74.

Had he lived, Andrew Wyeth would have turned 100 on July 12 of this year. Two retrospectives of his work are currently on view. Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect at the Seattle Art Museum, Wa from October 19, 2017 to January 15, 2018 and Andrew Wyeth at 100 at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Me until December 31, 2017. I recently got to see a few of his paintings while visiting the new Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City (Dec. 2015) and the National Gallery in Oslo, Norway (May 2016). 

Andrew Wyeth died in 2009 at the age of 91 after a brief illness. His remains rest in a small cemetery alongside Christina and Alvaro Olson, located not far from where the figure of Christina appears in the painting.

Hathorn Cemetery, Cushing, Maine

Part of my two-person show with Yvon Gallant entitled ''HARVEST'' at the Fog Forest Gallery in Sackville, NB. 
from October 12 - November 8, 2017.