Friday, January 16, 2009



Last Flame (for Andrew)

Acrylic on board, 8" x 10"
$350 plus $8 shipping in U.S.
SOLD


The famous American artist Andrew Wyeth died in his sleep Friday morning, at the age of 91.

I was about 18 when I purchased a slim volume of Wyeth drawings, and pored over it like the Holy Grail. I grew up in a small town in Oregon, and Wyeth's paintings of rural landscapes and country life struck deeply familiar and resonant chords with me. He became my role model and distant, unknowing mentor.

At age 22, fresh off my first (and only) year as a high school art teacher, I was entertaining the idea of trying to be a full-time artist. Determined to go see Andrew Wyeth and ask his advice,
I flew from Oregon to Wilmington Delaware, rented a car, drove to the little burg of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania where the artist lived, and called him from a phone booth. An hour later I sat, trembling and nearly speechless, six feet from my idol. The poor man had to do almost all the talking, trying to draw me out of what must have looked like a semi-catatonic state.

Wyeth was kind and encouraging, but also occasionally stern. He studied a watercolor portrait of my wife I had brought along. "If you don't know how to draw an ear, learn it...you've got eyes...use them!" he exclaimed, leaning toward me and stomping his foot for emphasis.

Over the years my idol worship mellowed and tempered. There was quite a long period of time where I was highly critical of Wyeth's work--the student rejecting the master, I guess. I've come out the other side with a more balanced and realistic view, I believe.

What I know for sure is that Andrew Wyeth played an instrumental role in my becoming an artist. I could never thank him enough.

35 comments:

Martha Miller said...

This painting is a stunner, Don, and what a great story.

Pierre Raby said...

I read an article about Andrew Wyeth
last night and this made me think of you- therefore, reading your post this morning brings more light to the spontaneous association. This painting is deep, poetic and brilliant Don.

Joan DaGradi said...

Dynamite landscape, Don. Beautiful and poetic.
Loved the story- thanks for sharing it. I can so easily relate to how you must have felt sitting, lump in throat, before him. You have serious courage! And how fortunate you are to have been given great advice by such an artist as Mr. Wyeth.
May his soul be merry at a job well done.

William R. Moore said...

Don,
Last Flame (for Andrew), really, really nice painting and an appropriate title at this time. Although, I do think his flame will continue to glow and his legacy will continue to grow. All critic may not agree, but I think it will be difficult to deny his influence on so many artist and their return to representational painting. Ditto Joan DaGradi, You do have serious courage! Have you seen the Wyeth posts by Brian Kliewer and Colin Page?

Sheila Vaughan said...

A fascinating post Don. What a memory you have there of Wyeth! I have lately come to realise he was one of the greats of American 20th century painting. You have painted a absolutely great tribute to him.

Anonymous said...

Don, I was also impressed with your courage and determination in seeking out Wyeth. The painting is wonderful in its own right, as well as being a tribute.
Anne Thrower

Anonymous said...

Don, I thought of you immediately when I heard of Wyeth's death. I remember so well when you told me that story so many years ago. And I've always held you up in that class with him. Beautiful tribute from a super sensitive and great guy! Ann La

mick mcginty said...

Great story and great painting. Thanks for sharing and giving insight into your life as an artist. Andrew's life was definitely full and well documented but now it's great to hear about how far his influence reached. I admire you for acting on your instincts and can just picture the young Don getting to meet the man. He was a huge influence on me as well.

Don Gray said...

Thanks a lot, Martha.

Don Gray said...

Pierre, that means a lot coming from you--thanks so much.

Don Gray said...

Joan, loved reading what you wrote--thank you!

Don Gray said...

Thanks, Bill for your thoughtful comments. I agree with what you said about Wyeth's legacy. He was controversial in the art world, alright, derided by some, exalted by others. I read an article once where they asked a critic (can't remember who) which artist he thought was most overrated, and which most underrated? He named Wyeth for both categories, which I thought was probably pretty true.

I saw Brian's post, I'll go look at Colin's. Lynne Oakes also wrote a marvelous tribute.

As to this "serious courage" thing--it is called being young and ignorant!

Don Gray said...

You're most kind, Sheila--thanks!

Don Gray said...

As I mentioned above, "young and dumb" are the operative words--not courage. Thanks Anne.

Don Gray said...

Ann La--You're making me mist up! That is so kind of you to say--thanks very much.

Don Gray said...

Mick, great to hear from you and thank you. Lynne Oakes really had a great perspective on how we are influenced by others on her blog:
http://joyofartforever.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your story about Andrew Wyeth.I had a chance to see some of his work in the Kansas City Museum of Art and in books which I enjoyed. I have also always made heros of famous artist. You are someones role model too.....Dixie

Erika Nelson said...

Goodness Don an amazing story. You have always been so determined I see. I think you knew the answer before you met him because it really all up to you wasn't it? You are such an excellent artist I should fly out and ask you for direction but you might tell me to learn how to paint ears too. Sincerely a wonderful tribute.

Erika Nelson said...

The painting took my breath away and just about made me cry, this is one of those magical moments that make my hear skip a beat because it's such a fleeting moment and you captured it!

Don Gray said...

Dixie, thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Don Gray said...

Hi Erika, I appreciate your words so much. And you're right, I did know the answer before I met him.

I wouldn't make you paint ears--you already know how. :^}

Susan Beauchemin said...

Man oh man, I just watched your video--your studio--what a great story that is--that you came to use that space once again! And what a space it is!! You could live there--I would--I am so envious--I know you worked hard to get that all in place and built all those things--great flat files and I love those larger abstracts and the large shell paintings--what a space--man oh man! and a piano to boot! very nice--way to go.

Deb Kirkeeide said...

This is a beautiful painting and a wonderful story. Thank you for sharing.

Chris said...

Hey Don; I just read your post on the Wyeth memorial page, and I followed the link to here. Thanks for a GREAT story, I really loved it, and could see myself in your position as I read it, trembling as you must have trembled. I visited Chadds Ford years ago, when the Wyeths were in Maine, but I found out where they lived, crept as close to the house as I dared to do, and shot a bunch of photos. Even that one experience I will remember forever. I was also sorry that Wyeth didn't teach (I think he would have been great at it), but even that one comment that you related meant a lot, as it must have to you too. Thanks again;
A brother in Wyeth;
Chris
P.S. SENSATIONAL painting!

Don Gray said...

Hi Susan, thanks for the visit and nice comments. HA--I'm glad you enjoyed my little "not ready for prime-time" video! It IS a good-vibe studio and maybe you'll visit sometime...? I hope you can play the piano!

Don Gray said...

Thanks, Deb--much appreciated.

Don Gray said...

Chris--thanks so much for following the link! What was it about Andrew Wyeth that inspired so many of us to make these pilgrimages? My son and I were in York, PA a few years ago painting a mural. We drove over to Chadds Ford so I could show him the place and explain to him my obsession of so many years ago. He was genuinely interested, but I also think he thought I was a little nuts. I think he was probably right!

Thanks for the great story!

http://www.onpainting.wordpress.com said...

This is a beautiful piece. I expect he would approve.

silvina said...

Beautiful and very appropriate painting. That's quite a story of a personal encounter with Andrew Wyeth! What a great experience and memory to cherish. Whether it was courage or youthful arrogance doesn't matter now does it. Aren't you glad you did it?

Don Gray said...

Thanks Onpainting.

Don Gray said...

I am very glad, Silvina, yes. Thank you.

Peter Gander said...

Beautiful. Loaded with atmosphere - a fitting tribute indeed.

Don Gray said...

Welcome to my blog, Peter--thanks for your thoughts.

Deborah Paris said...

Don- what a wonderful story about Wyeth. I knew he had been an early influence on you but did not realize how much. I admire your courage in seeking him out and I am happy to hear that he was willing to meet with you. He was a giant- no doubt.

Don Gray said...

Hi Deborah, thanks for the visit. Wyeth was very kind to take time for me, especially showing up practically unnanounced as I did. I think he cut me a break for my callow youth.