More Death: Andrew Wyeth

What is it about the week of January 16? Now news comes that Andrew Wyeth and John Mortimer, the father of Rumpole, both died this weekend. And I'm not feeling too well myself.
Wyeth was 91 years old, a refutation to the "live fast, die young" school of art. What makes Rembrandt Rembrandt and Hokusai "the old man mad with painting" was their ability to dive down deeper and deeper towards the great mysteries. Someone asked Hokusai about old age, and he said it was frustrating because he thought he was just starting to get pretty good; another 90 years, he said, and he might accomplish something. And Wyeth was in a line of great artists: father N.C., and his children, Jamie in particular, continue to do amazing things.

My favorite Wyeths have something human in them: Tom Carpenter in "That Gentleman", the hair on the back of Helga's neck, a dog squinting in the sun, Betsy standing in the snow by an old stone tower.

But what always amazed me, leaves me gobsmacked at the technical skill, was Wyeth's ability to paint inanimate objects-- a landscape, an empty room-- and invest it with so much personality. A lace curtain, a pair of boots, even a weather vane on top of a roof has a story that stepped out of the room just a moment before. How did he do that?
I'll never know, but in an interview last year, he did leave a useful note to etch into my skin: "People only make you swerve. I won’t show anybody anything I’m working on. If they hate it, it’s a bad thing, and if they like it, it’s a bad thing. An artist has to be ingrown to be any good."

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