Jamie Wyeth is a great painter of pumpkins. Some are dreamily American bucolic. Think of the wonderful details in a Washington Irving story. Others are more halloweeny. Think of, well, the wonderful details in a Washington Irving story.
Headlands of Monhegan is of a style more recent to Jamie Wyeth's work. Maybe the best way to describe it is playful rock and roll. Think of the Grateful Dead or Little Steven’s underground garage. You can imagine Steven Van Zandt’s voice announcing, ``this week's coolest painting in the world is Headlands of Monhegan from Jamie Wyeth.” It’s a painting with playful swagger.
The pumpkins appear jauntily sinister as they laugh their way toward their demise. The composition is impish. There is a black hole at the bottom. It's the shadow of the central jack o’lantern and it looks like a manhole to hell. Wyeth’s earlier Pumpkin Shadow has a similar hole of a shadow. But while Pumpkin Shadow is a perfectly still picture of autumn mood, Headlands of Monhegan is a rakish devil may care picture. It’s bold and painterly. The gourds appear otherworldly as they float through the air. The rocks below, flecked with shards of orange fruit, are painted with ropey dashes of gray and white. Passages of underpainting show through to give the surface a lively, organic feel.
In this painting, the cold North Atlantic is blue, white, and green. The deep blue is emphasized by bright white breakerfoam. The blue and white are adeptly offset with the slice of lime green on the water’s surface. These three colors cooperate with the vibrant orange pumpkins for a wonderful halloween harmony. The juxtaposition of the green and blue are another echo of an earlier Monhegan painting. Wyeth’s Twin Houses of 1969 is a great painting that uses similar color geography at its horizon.
In addition, the depiction of the sea in Headlands of Monhegan is wonderfully cinematic. It seems as if you're seeing above and below the water at the same time. Think of split water photography; shots that straddle the water’s surface, often used in footage of surfers.
At the Jersey Shore in the fall, when the weather and tides become right, the parking areas fill with old Ford Broncos decorated with coastal bumper stickers, old Jeep Wagoneers with wood panel sides, and funky bicycles outfitted with surfboard racks. You can sit on the sand and watch surfer dudes make their way down the beach and into the water. The fall waters are rougher and colder than those of summer days when you splash around with your kids. In these waters, the surfers know what to do. I've always admired, even envied, these dude’s ability to be one with the place.
I feel the same way about great painters on Monhegan. In ways, the painter is the ‘surfer dude’ of Monhegan. The history of the island, the culture of the island, the beauty of the island… Many things about the place make painting a top way to be one with Monhegan. And, possibly, the prime example of the yoga that is painting on Monhegan, is Jamie Wyteh painting the headlands. And, to boot, it's a great pumpkin painting.
Many paintings of Monhegan Island are bucolic. Calm and beautiful. I love them all, but Headlands of Monhegan is both a perfect painting, and a perfect celebration of the joyful dignity of the island’s no frills tradition. It’s utterly in tune with the wild power of the place. You can hear those waves smashing the rocks. The waves swallow up the pumpkins like they swallow up the preceding summer’s tourist season. This painting swallows you up. You’re in the splash zone here. And what else can you hope for in a painting? It's just right for fall, when the water is cold and the spirit of jack o’lanterns is in the air.