Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Grant Wood

Grant Wood was an American artist He was born in Anamosa, Iowa on February 13, 1891. His family moved to Cedar Rapids in 1901.After graduating high school he enrolled in art school in Minneapolis. He returned to Cedar Rapids a year later to teach. In 1913 he enrolled the School of Art Institute in Chicago and worked as a silversmith.
Between 1920 and 1924 he made four trips to Europe. He immersed himself in various styles of art, especially Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. But the artist who influenced him the most was Jan van Eyck. (see May 23 posting)
In 1932 Grant Wood helped found the Stone City Art Colony which was located near his hometown. The idea behind the colony was to help artists get through the Great Depression.He also began lecturing throughout the country on "regionalism in the arts"
Wood taught painting at the University of Iowa's School of Art from 1934 until he died. He supervised mural projects, mentored students, produced his own works, and become an important part of the University's cultural life. On February 12, 1942 he died of liver cancer.
Besides paintings, Grant Wood produced a large number of works in various other mediums, including charcoal, lithography, ceramics, metal, and wood. In order to have a steady source of income, he often did advertisements for many Iowa-based businesses. He designed the stained glass windows for the Veterans Memorial Building in Grand Rapids.

Regional was a movement that was primarily in the Midwest and advanced figurative painting of rural American themes in a rejection of European abstractism. There were three artists in the forefront of the movement: Grant Wood, John Steuart Curry, (right: Tornado Over Kansas) and Thomas Hart Benton. (left: Parks, the Circus, the Klan, and the Press)

Wood's best known painting is American Gothic (top)painted in 1930.It is probably the most famous painting in American art. A painting which has become a cultural icon like the Mona Lisa and The Scream (by Edvard Munch). It was first exhibited in 1930 at the Art Institute of Chicago where it still hangs. It brought Wood instant recognition (and a $300 prize). Since then it has been used in hundreds of advertisements, satires, and cartoons. Art critics who liked the painting (e.g Gertrude Stein, Christopher Morley) assumed that it was meant to satirize rural small-town life, portraying it as narrow-minded and repressive. The trend to criticize rural America (and Middle America) began in the early part of the 20th century with such works of literature as Winesburg, Ohio (1919) by Sherwood Anderson and Main Street (1920)by Sinclair Lewis. Wood denied this interpretation.

Wood was inspired by a cottage in Eldon, Iowa. The house's architecture was "Gothic Revival" thus the title of the painting.Wood decided to paint the house along with"the kind of people I fancied should live in that house." The painting depicts a farmer and his spinster daughter. The models were Wood's dentist, Dr. Byron McKeeby (1867-1950), and Wood's sister Nan (1900-1990).
The severity and detailed technique were inspired by Northern Renaissance paintings which Grant had seen on his trips to Europe. Eventually he became aware of the Midwest's own legacy which also plays a huge part in this painting.
Personally, I did not know much about Grant Wood nor his work until doing this posting. American Gothic is the only painting of his that I knew. I have discovered that I like some of his work a lot. I find his Paul Revere's Ride (right) particularly interesting. It appears three-dimensional, like a village in a miniature railroad scene. The other painting below is Young Corn

Link to the Cedar Rapids Museum www.crma.org/Content/Grant_Wood/Default.aspx

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