Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Unknown Terrain: The Landscapes of Andrew Wyeth by Beth Venn, Andrew D. Weinberg, and Michael Kammen

A collection of Wyeth’s best work, both the familiar and the rare
This beautiful showcase of Andrew Wyeth’s art differs from other books on the artist in two main respects. First, it concentrates specifically on his landscape art, as opposed to his portraits and figurative paintings (although a few of the works do contain figures within the landscape—Christina’s World, for example). Secondly, it places emphasis on his heretofore largely unknown work in watercolor. The meticulously crafted tempera paintings for which Wyeth is famous are also well represented here, but intermingled with the more vigorous, slapdash watercolors, allowing you to compare and contrast the two styles. The two bodies of work are quite different in tone and execution, yet Wyeth’s exceptional talent for expressing the structural beauty and textural randomness of nature is equally evident in both media.

The brief text of the book is neither good nor bad. Curator Beth Venn’s essay gives some valuable insight into Wyeth’s working methods in watercolor. The other two essays offer mostly critical analysis, discussing whether Wyeth is a realist or abstractionist, a modernist or a traditionalist. Other than offering a few choice quotes from the artist himself, they don't really tell you much of anything you can’t figure out just by looking at the images. The uncomfortable typographic design of the book makes reading the text literally painful, so you may want to avoid the words altogether and just feast your eyes on the 150+ color plates of Wyeth’s magnificent work. The images are beautifully reproduced in vivid detail and brilliant color.

Admirers of Wyeth’s art will never get tired of browsing through this book. For those artistically inclined, a little time spent paging through this gallery of images will make you want to grab your paints and head out for the nearest wilderness.

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