Friday, May 10, 2013

Gothic Gazing

Spring has finally arrived, and I've been doing more outdoorsy things, killing dandelions, fixing up the deck, visiting the cemeteries for a bit of grass trimming and setting of flowers and flags before Memorial Day.  But a couple days of rain sent me back up to the studio for some painting.

Last summer my patient spouse and I took a visiting out-of-state niece to Chicago for a visit to one of my favorite places, the Chicago Art Institute.  I've been there often enough to be acquainted with much of their permanent collection, and I have real affection for their twentieth century paintings.  We made a stop at Grant Wood's iconic painting of his sister and his Iowa dentist, American Gothic.  As familiar as it is, I'm always interested in stopping to look at the details, the tendril of hair escaping the woman's bun, the plants on the porch of the house.

Has any American painting been reproduced or parodied as often as American Gothic?  For years when I was teaching I used a coffee cup from the Art Institute - doing duty these days as a pen holder.

Has any American painting been parodied as often? A quick Google search will turn up dozens, from Paul Newman and his wife as the famous pair, to Granny and Jed Clampett.  This Pinterest page is full of good ones.

The painting has inspired poetry, too.  I like this one by John Stone:


Just outside the frame
there has to be a dog
chickens, cows and hay

and a smokehouse
where a ham in hickory
is also being preserved

Here for all time
the borders of the Gothic window
anticipate the ribs

of the house
the tines of the pitchfork
repeat the triumph

of his overalls
and front and center
the long faces, the sober lips

above the upright spines
of this couple
arrested in the name of art

These two
by now
the sun this high

ought to be
in mortal time
about their businesses

Instead they linger here
within the patient fabric
of the lives they wove

he asking the artist silently
how much longer
and worrying about the crops

she no less concerned about the crops
but more to the point just now
whether she remembered

to turn off the stove.

Anyway, I enjoyed my husband's niece's reaction to the painting, and moments later a pair of black clad young men can up, museum guides in hand, to get a closer look.  I snapped a quick photo of them, and then this week I finally painted it.  My painting is oil on paper, and quite small, only five by seven inches.  That meant I had to simplify things.  I eliminated the little "keep-your-distance" fence the museum puts there to keep people from getting too close.  The man on the right had his legs tattooed, but I didn't want lots of detail in that part of the picture.  And of course the Grant Wood painting is very simplified; it had to be.  It's about the size of a postage stamp. 

But I think my area of real interest is in the young men, in their obvious interest and close gaze.  I think the fact that these urban  dudes are so interested in an old painting of serious-looking Iowa farmers speaking to the durable appeal of the painting.

1 comment:

laura said...

Love your painting, sherry. American Gothic meets American Homeboy.
I had Wood's painting of Paul Revere's ride hanging over my dining room table for many years ... The painting fascinated me; I still don't really know why!