New York

Jamie Wyeth

Coe Kerr Gallery

As the son of Andrew Wyeth and grandson of N.C. Wyeth, Jamie Wyeth is heir to his family’s style of tight, meticulous rendering. This is a legacy that, far from rejecting, he reinvests with considerable vitality. Take the farm scenes that are a famous staple of his father’s repertory. The younger Wyeth often presents an offbeat point of view in his versions of the subject. In Kinzer of Point Lookout, 1988, he creates an impressive portrait of a black ram. The animal stepping out from a thicket of sunflowers into an open grassy area is the embodiment of pride, with his prancing pose and puffed-up coat painted in thick, lush strokes of color. The ram’s impact is heightened by the close cropping of the figure in relation to the rest of the composition, as well as by the subtle shifts in the image’s degree of verisimilitude. If the figure of the ram is a bit larger than life, in hyper- or magic-realist terms, the landscape is somewhat impressionistic and the sky has a studio flatness about it. Wyeth’s evocative synthesis of different modes of realism goes in several directions at once. The central figure of the black ram might serve as a metaphor for the artist’s own feeling for nature.

Spring Chicken, 1987, piques a similar sort of curiosity. Here, Wyeth depicts two chickens peering into a wooden bucket, which is placed on the ground in front of a wall of wooden planks. Much attention is paid to the surfaces of the ground and the wooden objects, which are treated in a broad and painterly manner with a great deal of patterning and texture. This makes the chickens, with their white feathers, red crowns , and quizzical expressions, appear to be creatures lost in a sea of shadowy browns, dwarfed by their surroundings. Wyeth injects an element of possible danger into what would otherwise be an amusing scene. The rectilinear composition, with its boxlike space, holds the whole scene together.

There is no breaking the spell of the illusion created in Child’s Chairs, 1988. Two chairs scaled for children are placed side by side in the foreground of a room, their backs to the viewer. A little girl sits in one of the chairs. Her body and the chairs are rendered with the most specificity; the rest of the composition seems to be in the process of dissolving. Wyeth builds a sense of fantasy into the representational character of the composition. We want to hold onto those very forms, perhaps to prevent slipping off into the mysterious shadowy light that engulfs this room.

Ronny Cohen