Art: Andrew Wyeth's Stunning Secret

The Helga collection, a hidden treasure trove

  • Share
  • Read Later

(6 of 6)

The week's turmoil has punctured the couple's routine, such as it is. "There are no rules in my work," he says. "I don't really have studios. I wander around -- around people's attics, out in fields, in cellars, any place I find that excites me. I dream a lot. I do more painting when I'm not painting. It's in the subconscious. I begin to see an emotion building up in my mind before I ever put it down on the panel. Sometimes when there is great tension, or lots taking place, I may get an idea or an emotion, and it hits me strong. It can be a tree, or the tone of a shadow of clouds on the ground, or light on the side of a hill, or light on a white surface. Sometimes I do my best work after the models have gone away, purely from memory. And that's what makes me laugh when critics say I'm photographic. I'm not photographic at all. Nothing against the camera, but it doesn't work with me."

An artist is part camera, of course: he is the seer, adjusting technical and emotional focus to find a unique approach to the thing seen. Equally, he is reluctant to open the aperture on objects of his inspiration. In two hours, Wyeth has not mentioned Helga's name, referring to her only once as the "young lady." About the Helga series he will say only, "I feel -- not * all -- but there are a number of paintings in there that are as penetrating as anything I've ever done." Asked if he thinks it comprises his best work, Wyeth stares out toward Penobscot Bay and replies, "I won't say it's my best work, but its intensity . . . well, I don't think I can answer that."

Betsy's laugh precedes her as she joins her husband. The last phone call was from their son Jamie, the third generation of Wyeth artists. "There must be some awful things said about us," she mock-confides to Wyeth. Andrew's mood clears instantly, and he nods toward their inquisitive guest: "She asked me all about our sex life." And what did you say? Betsy wants to know. "Twice weakly," he winks in reply. "Do you know how to spell it?"

They stand outside in the haze, on the balding knoll where their house rests. The trees list permanently to the north, made arthritic by the wind. Figures in a Wyeth landscape -- except for the yardarm, with flourishing skull and crossbones, that towers wickedly behind the house. In a moment the artist is off on another ramble, toward a new attic or field or relationship or controversy. More than likely, he will wander back to Betsy. She calls Wyeth "you old pirate"; he must know she is the anchor.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. Next Page