I remember when the "Helga" paintings were made public in 1986. The figurative paintings and drawings were a secretive body of work spanning 15 years. Wyeth's detractors as well as his disciples were stunned. I was not. Andrew Wyeth was never an illustrator or a one trick pony. He was an artist in the classical sense, a modern day Rembrandt. The figure paintings of Helga Testorf were just another chapter in that regard.
Far too many became wrapped up in the meticulous nature of his egg tempera paintings. Egg tempera, a media from the middle ages, demands accurate draftsmanship and precise brushstrokes. I suppose it was easy to dismiss Wyeth if one never looked deeper. But looking deeper was revealing. It was Wyeth's watercolors and studies that absolutely blew me away. The apparent ease with which the man could render form, light and darkness with a single splatter and whip of a brush was unique.
"Artists today think of everything they do as a work of art. It is important to forget about what you are doing...... Then a work of art may happen," declared Wyeth. There is a zen truth there. It is often the drawings, the sketches, the watercolors and preliminary pieces to the revered masterpiece that reveal the thinking, indeed, the soul of the artist.
Andrew Wyeth died in his sleep at his home in Chadds Ford on Friday. He was 91. Wyeth did not take the common path. Like Robert Frost, he took the road less traveled, and it made all the difference.