December 25, 2017 by AK
As I’ve said, James Panero’s recent piece on the painter Andrew Wyeth does not seem particularly well-reasoned to me. Nevertheless, it does a service to the reading public as it points out that painters can be influenced by filmmakers, not only the other way round.
There are plenty of examples of directors and cameramen drawing on the work of painters, as a quick Google search reveals. Tarkovsky and Bruegel et al. (1, 2, 3), Vidor and Burchfield et al. (1, 2), Wenders et al. and Hopper – this is only a small random selection out of dozens of dozens of connections.
However, the observed influence seems to mostly run from canvas to celluloid. What about the opposite direction? In 1978-80, King Vidor made a “short documentary about painting,” The Metaphor, largely based on his conversations with Andrew Wyeth and his wife Betsy Wyeth. It seems that the enlightened public paid little attention to that piece until the 21st century. In my previous post, I linked to Tag Gallagher‘s excellent 2007 article, How to Share a Hill:
In Metaphor, Vidor and Wyeth and Wyeth’s wife Betsy discuss specific affinities linking The Big Parade to famous Wyeth depictions of a hill (e.g., “Winter 1946”; “Snow Flurries”); a sharpshooter medal (“Portrait of Ralph Kline”); a tree branch (“Afternoon Flight of a Boy up a Tree”). From another Vidor movie, Wild Oranges (1924), a vacant rocking chair swaying in the wind made its way into Wyeth’s “Due Back” (1963).
N. C. Wyeth kept the “cinematic” narrative-based academic style alive in his book illustrations (as did Norman Rockwell in his magazine illustrations) and N. C.’s son Andrew has been almost alone in keeping elements of this style alive within the circles of modern “high art”, by making the narrative element more ambiguous and blending the dramatic representation of space (which is crucial to his work) with a more pronounced abstraction of design.
In Andrew Wyeth’s obsession with The Big Parade we have a concrete example of the transmission of these oddly overlooked aesthetic connections.
Overlooked, perhaps, as far as painting and graphic artistry are concerned. Cinematic motives in literature – even of the highest order, such as Nabokov’s prose – are hardly an esoteric subject.