The Warning, 2007 signed 'J.Wyeth' (lower left) Mixed media on paper 34 x 48in (86.3 x 122.0cm)
PROVENANCE: The artist with Adelson Galleries, New York Acquired by the present owner from the above, 2008
EXHIBITED: New York, Adelson Galleries, Seven Deadly Sins & Recent Works by Jamie Wyeth, March 14-April 18, 2008, pp. 32-33, illustrated.
This work is included in the database of the artist's work being compiled by the Wyeth Center at the William A. Farnsworth Museum, Rockland, Maine. James Wyeth, a third-generation painter and member of the iconic Wyeth family of artists, is known for his contemporary depictions of the Maine landscape, animals and illustrative renderings of the rural American populous. A student of his father, Andrew Wyeth, and his aunt, Carolyn Wyeth, Jamie's work displays many of the best characteristics of each artist with a strong individualism. His knack for dream-like imagery, a common quality in the works of his grandfather, N.C. Wyeth, combined with meticulous detail, has made his paintings both relatable and vast at the same time.
In the present work, The Warning, 2007, Wyeth depicts a gull descending upon the viewer from an alarming angle. Larger than life, the gull appears to be soaring directly and without hesitation while a swirling, frothy sea animates below. By positioning the gull at center with fully spread wings, Jamie fragments the background, indirectly abstracting it. Similar surrounding vignettes of sea and sky are poignantly described by Joyce Hill Stoner who explained, "Details of Jamie Wyeth's animals and their surrounds are powerful abstract studies of texture and surfaces in oil paint. [They] have prominent topographical impasto which the artist has attacked with a brush handle or other sharp instrument, pulling twirling furrows in the still-soft paint." (J.H. Stoner, A Closer Look, 1998, p. 31) This technique, presumably meant to convey suspense, is complimented by the artist's careful choice of color. With notably deep tones in the rich sea and transparent patches of blue in the visible sky, the negative spaces left provide the work with an ominous, sinister atmosphere.
The Warning was conceived and executed while Jamie was assembling a series on the seven deadly sinsa body of work comprised of gulls performing each of the forbidden acts. According to Warren Adelson in Seven Deadly Sins, 2008, "Jamie's recent series, Seven Deadly Sins, interprets the time-honored biblical teachings in a starkly original way. Seabirds enact the vices in these seven paintings in a manner resolute and taut as ever portrayed." This theme, commonly depicted throughout the history of art, is handled by Jamie with a lens so individual that it appears to have brought the artist into a new place unto himself. Warren Adelson went on to describe Jamie's more recent works, "Symbols replace objects, landscapes pulsate in eerie light, and the animals and birds transcend their species; they become fellow travelers in the proceedings of our world." In this series and noticeably in the present work, the illustrative renderings of the gull's faces leave viewers unsettled as if the natural order of the world has been overturned.
Providing birds with an almost human-like persona is not a new premise for Jamie, who has made nearly 200 paintings and drawings of birds since the 1960s. (M.K. Komanecky, Seven Deadly Sins, 2009, p. 7) The artist's keen ability to render figures in their natural surroundings while also conveying their unique expression and individuality easily transfers to his winged subjects. This may be a result of his familiarity with the birds he paints, often choosing his subjects from those around the barnyard at his home in Pennsylvania and, in the case of the present work, from his secluded home off the coast of Maine.
"Gulls and ravens represent nature's primeval wanderers, wheeling across leaden skies, screeching into the wind in a constant, instinctual search for survival in a harsh environment. They 'own' much of the Maine coast by right of ubiquity and sheer cussedness.' (C. Crosman, "James Wyeth," Wondrous Strange: The Wyeth Tradition, p. 129) An unlikely yet symbiotic partnership, the birds provide Jamie with endless inspiration, and Jamie enhances the character these birds possess.