The Memory Magician

I’ve just watched an episode of PBS’ American Masters series on the life and artistry of Andrew Wyeth, son of notable children’s book illustrator N. C. Wyeth. In describing the younger Wyeth’s work, the term “magic-realist” was several times used – his paintings capture realistic but haunting imagery with strangely sharp detail.

One of the fascinating aspects of his work is the extent to which he captured, not painted photographs of real scenes, but observations drawn from memory. Wyeth was a dedicated observer, and would take his observations back to a canvas or sketchpad in a room; the artist himself spoke of art being a blend truth and (not beauty but) memory.

Equally fascinating was the fact that most of his artistic life was spent in only two places: Chadds Ford, PA, and Allen Island, Maine. At each residence, he became close friends with neighbors whose lives and dwellings formed the source material of countless sketches and paintings. Much made out of seemingly little: it shows that much is hidden in the small things of life, for the eyes willing and able to see.

Memory is an imperfect mirror. Every memory is turned, lightened and darkened, grainier or smoother than what had been, and in that way it is good fodder for the artistic vision. If you possessed such a talent with paints or with words, what memories would you draw upon to capture the things you care most about?

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