CHADDS FORD -- Jamie Wyeth said he goes to Monhegan because it’s off the beaten track and away from the colonies of artists who come to Maine to paint perfect landscapes.
The tiny island 12 miles off the coast of the state is the subject of a show by Wyeth the late Rockwell Kent at the Brandywine River Museum through Nov. 17 called “Jamie Wyeth, Rockwell Kent and Monhegan.” Kent died in 1971 at the age of 88; the two never met.
On Friday, the legendary Wyeth sat down with museum director Tom Padon and show Curator Amanda Burdan to talk about his art, his life and the island in front of a group of about 100 adoring fans.
Wyeth, whose paintings in the show are of the ocean and scenes in the island, conveys a stark -- almost cold -- feeling of what he calls “weirdness” of the tiny island. He said Monhegan is nicely distant from the shoreline. “It’s an extraordinary island. … You’re cut off. It’s almost beyond the sight of the mainland. There’s a sense of omnipotence in the people. It’s an amazing place,” he said.
He explained that since the resources for the population there must come infrequently across the water, that they have acquired the ability and strength to sustain themselves without the relying on what gets shipped in.
During the hour or so he talked, Wyeth, dressed in a black suit with knickers, was asked questions by the two museum administrators in a lecture area on the third floor, facing rows of spectators who had warmed up with cocktails and hors d’oeuvre downstairs an hour before the main event.
He talked a lot about his art and that of Kent.
He said they both sought the subjects of their paintings on that island. What they found there were scenes out of which they could glean the essence and express it in their art.
When he addressed his art in general, he referred to the satisfaction of putting in all that work. “The opiate is when things start clicking,” he said.
Wyeth, the son of famed American legend Andrew Wyeth and the grandson of famous illustrator N.C. Wyeth, was asked about his family and how he felt about being referred to as part of a “dynasty.”
Of the word dynasty, he said it was merely “an act of nature.”
Of his family, he was admiring.
He said he got his first attraction to art from his father, who used to create a watercolor painting for the family Christmas card every year. He said Andrew Wyeth did not consider himself a great teacher, but that he was indeed a great teacher by example.
Wyeth also said he took art lessons from his aunt, Carolyn Wyeth, who painted detailed works in oil of smaller objects. “I liked to watch her squeeze the paint from the tubes,” he said.
From Carolyn he acquired the desire to paint in oils.
Where a person paints or works is also telling.
He said much of an artist’s style and personality is reflected in his or her studio. N.C. Wyeth, who did large, colorful illustrations of such books as “Treasure Island” and “Last of the Mohicans” had a bright and colorful studio compared with Andrew, whose studio was spare and lacked color. Jamie Wyeth’s own studio is suited to greet guests, but he said he actually paints in the back room, where he can be alone. “
“Painting is a very lonely thing. By its nature, it is solitary,” he said.
That solitariness becomes problematic, he said, when he is doing portraits of people. He said he has a love-hate relationship with that form of art because on the one hand he is challenged to express the essence of the person, but on the other hand the person is there with certain hopes for the picture.
Wyeth grew up in Chadds Ford and found many of his subjects for paintings there. He attended Unionville-Chadds Ford schools until he was 12, when he told his family he wanted to leave school to paint and to be tutored instead. Through the years he said he said people told him he missed much by dropping out of school, among them, the chance to play football. “Who knows. Maybe someday I’ll wake up and want to play football,” said the 67-year-old Wyeth.
The Rockwell Kent-Jamie Wyeth show at the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford runs until Nov. 17. The museum is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The admission is $12 for adults, $8 for seniors and $6 for students. Admission is free on Sunday mornings from 9:30 a.m. to noon through Nov. 24.