Friday, January 21, 2011

Arty Farty Friday ~ Grant Wood - American Gothic etc.

Grant Wood. The name might be familiar to Americans, especially those in Iowa and the midwest, but until I came to the USA I hadn't even set eyes upon his most famous, and oft parodied, painting American Gothic.

American Gothic. I'd assumed it depicted husband and wife, but I discovered it represents a farmer and his daughter. The artist's sister was the female model, and his dentist the male. The painting caused a stir in 1930 when it was exhibited for the first time at The Art Institute of Chicago and awarded a prize of $300. A cottage Wood had seen in the small Iowa town of Eldon was inspiration for the painting's title. Its Gothic Revival style, is indicated by the upper window designed to resemble a medieval pointed arch.

A scoot through Google Image told me that Grant Wood was fond of his native Iowa countryside and of rural people. He painted them lovingly, with a "not quite photographic" realism. His landscapes, sometimes dubbed "unreal realism", occasionally contained an almost humorous effect with slight exaggerations. "All my pictures are first planned as abstractions," he is reported to have said. "When I think it's a sound design, then I start very cautiously making it look like nature. But I'm so afraid of being photographic that maybe I stop too soon."

It was quite a surprise to read that, in spite of the rather traditional, conservative feel of his work, he was a "not-out" homosexual, and quite likely not a totally happy guy living in the environment in which he found himself - deepest Iowa. He experienced European art in France and Germany, though, in his young days on 4 separate visits to study their art and artists but eventually settled in his home state of Iowa.

Grant Wood was a talented artist from early on. At age 14 he won third prize in a national contest for a crayon drawing of oak leaves and said that winning that prize was his inspiration to become an artist.

His early career included the design and construction of a stained glass window for a Veteran Memorial building in Cedar Rapids - the window took two years to complete, some of the work was done in Munich, which did not endear the artist to the Daughters of the American Revolution (or as he called them "those Tory gals). They declared that it was made by enemy hands (it was constructed in Germany).

The group held up the dedication of the window until 13 years after the Wood's death. He achieved some satisfaction, however, in his painting Daughters of the Revolution (The Daughters are a group of volunteers, established in 1890 dedicated to keeping America strong by promoting patriotism). Three ladies are depicted, facing the viewer, one holding a teacup. The one hand depicted holding the teacup is rigid, suggesting a spinster. The ladies stare at the viewer, waiting for recognition of their inherent glory. They are placed in front of a painting by Emmanuel Leutze, called Washington Crossing the Delaware. Although the painting is considered a national treasure, the irony was, that Letuze painted it in Germany using the Rhine as a model for the Delaware.

R. Tripp Evans, a professor of art history at Wheaton College in Norton, Mass. has written a biography of Wood, Grant Wood: A Life. The author closely examines Iowa’s famous artist and his tenure on the University of Iowa faculty.

"Wood was already famous when he joined to the University in 1934. American Gothic had made him a celebrity four years earlier and he lectured around the world, sold paintings for huge sums, and was prominently featured in a Time magazine cover story on the Regionalism style.
He joined the faculty as the Iowa director of the Public Works of Art Project, a Depression-era relief program that gave artists a government paycheck and academic credit to create public art. Wood oversaw the creation of murals and other art installations at post offices around the state and at Iowa State University, painting many of them in a drained swimming pool on the UI campus.
His tenure, though, was not a smooth one. Not long after Wood arrived, the art faculty became made up mostly of Modernists who took their cues from Impressionism and other European forms. They considered Wood little more than a decent cartoonist, his Regionalist style as reactionary (described by one as “communazi”), his training questionable, his education inadequate, and his teaching heavy-handed. He was also rich and famous, a big strike among many academics*.
And there was the gay thing."

Wood died from liver cancer, aged 51 minus one day.

In the 1950s, academics felt Wood's work was too populist, too much like American folk-art - 'always popular among simple people'. One of his main critics, Ruth Pickering, observed that he did not fit the image of a romantic painter. She complained he was no Van Gogh or Cezanne. However, from the 1970s onward Wood's reputation has again risen. (More HERE.)

Grant Wood was born on 13 February 1891 in Anamosa, Iowa. The chart shown is set for 12 noon as no time of birth is available. Moon and rising sign will not be accurate as shown.

At first glance, this 12 noon chart does not look to me like the chart of an artist. I strongly suspect that he was born after 1:00PM when the Moon would have moved into Taurus. Taurus is ruuled by Venus, planet of the arts. In the early degrees of Taurus Moon would have beein in harmonious trine to Venus itself, at 8 Capricorn. The two Earth signs, Taurus and Capricorn connect well to Grant Wood's chosen subject matter, and style: the earthy countryside, rural people, and a realistic style. his natal Sun in Aquarius, conjunct Jupiter, with Mercury at 00 Aquarius signify a rather intellectual side to his nature.....and a few quirks not readily apparent from his artwork.

A Yod (Finger of Fate)formation involving Venus, Uranus and Neptune is interesting.
Venus and Uranus (art and the avant garde/unexpected) are linked to each other by helpful sextile and both linked by quincunx (150*) aspect to Neptune (imagination and creativity). In turn Neptune is conjunct powerful Pluto too! This all makes sense, apart from the Uranus component, which I still don't see. Maybe there's some connection to his hidden sexual orientation? I don't know. I did notice that in a recent Biography the author attempts to interpret some of his paintings in a way not at once obvious to the casual observer. In the introduction to his book (at Google Books) Grant Wood: A Life, R. Tripp Evans writes:

That might well account for "the unexpected" component!


PARSON WEEMS' FABLE (about George Washington & the cherry tree ("I cannot tell a lie, I did it with my little hatchet").










TOWN half.




Wisewebwoman said...

I just love his work. I remember buying a print for my mother way, way back and she did hang it and kept saying to me: "Every time I look at it I see something new!"

Twilight said...

WWW ~~~ Yes - I find his style very easy on the eye too. Not sure it would be my first choice as decor, but it's interesting to investigate, especially in light of what his later biographer suggests. :-)

R J Adams said...

Sheeeeesh! American Gothic, or not, I'd not want him pulling my teeth - especially with that pitch fork in his hand.


Twilight said...

RJ Adams ~~~ I'd run away from either of 'em, should I encounter them in a dark alley! :-)

Vanilla Rose said...

I knew the American Gothic picture from the "Rocky Horror Picture Show", but I prefer the more rural scenes, which I had not seen before. Thank you.

Twilight said...

Vanilla Rose - Yes, so do I !

Anonymous said...

"Wood died aged 49 from liver cancer."
I would say "aged 51 minus one day".

Pretty close though!


Twilight said...

Anonymous/Lexel ~~~ Many thanks for that, I've rectified my error.
It was either due to my faulty arithmetic or something I'd read and failed to check. :-)