Great Barrington/Stockbridge

Perhaps, of all American artists, Norman Rockwell is the most indelible.

Perhaps, of all American artists, Norman Rockwell is the most indelible.

He captured the essence of American life, and distilled it into something to emulate.

Regardless what the elites of the art world think, I will never agree with them who believe he was merely an illustrator. How can they define Chuck Close or William Kooning  under the category of fine art – when they deny Norman Rockwell the same title because he used a camera?

The Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, CN is well worth visiting. It’s located on a property surrounded by Connecticut’s countryside, with many interesting townships close at hand.

An up close look at his work is included with the price of admission, and his studio, relocated to the property from town, gives intimate insight about the artist.

The museum’s collection of original Rockwell’s is, in no way, comprehensive, but, between visiting his studio and viewing the paintings they do have , the experience was very satisfying.

And don’t forget to have a meal at the Red Lion Inn. In the rear of the dining room is where he painted Freedom From Want. The actual table is still there.

THE FOUR FREEDOMS

 

Woodbury

Via Facebook, I’ve had glimpses into Matt Wood’s world, and I’ve watched a few pieces of his art develop from concept to completion.

All the clichés comprised my vision of Connecticut before my visit…

It is early spring, and rosebushes strain their fresh green necks above azaleas and daffodils, shyly bowing their heads while waiting for the season to call on them to bloom.

Perfectly groomed homes sit atop freshly mowed slopes; white with black shutters, dormer windows, and brick herringbone pathways.

The trees enclose the road beneath a canopy of new leaves,  filtering green sunlight through their tender tissue. If not for the regularity of flags, devotedly displayed off every porch, I may have run my motorcycle right off the road from being ‘green blind’.

A classmate of my oldest brother lives here in Woodbury. Someone I have never met – I know him only from Facebook.

Though, I clearly remember the day my brother first showed me samples of Matt Wood’s work. It was a collection of landscape impressions that captivated my envy as much as my admiration ––– it is a style I have long wanted to paint myself. His were exceptional.

Being so close, I had to see if I could meet him…I gave him a call. On the phone he was friendly and receptive to the idea. We arranged to meet.

Matt lives with his wife, Asia, in a house, which, from the street, appears to belong to a conformist. The lawn, the trees, the edged flower beds, are manicured tighter than a CPA’s checkbook. But I know Matt is anything but a conformist, so this first impression is a little confusing.

As I ride up the gravel driveway, the crest of the hill lowers like an veil, revealing, little by little, the yard behind the house. First I see a 5’x 5′ canvas, still dripping from a recent downpour of rain. The gesso is peeling like paint outside a shower door – almost nothing remains of the artwork itself.

A base, made from 2″x 4″‘s, acts like a makeshift easel. The canvas is attached to two horizontal sticks that extend well beyond both edges of the canvas. It looks like a stockade – if not for the  yarn, of various colors, that is haphazardly wrapped around the sticks, dissolving the severity of the display into something playful.

Looking down the long slope of grass behind the house, one might be alarmed if unfamiliar with Mr. Wood’s work. ARTWORK, and I mean finely painted pieces of art, are propped up around the yard in different locations. Totally exposed to Mother Nature’s moods and emotions. They resemble circus animals trained to stand on their hind legs.

One of them is a life size horse, painted on a large panel leaning against the gate of a small corral, where the subject itself stands in the middle of the corral blinking at you.

Another work on canvas stands wide open in the center of the lawn. Another pears out from its hiding place a few yards into the woods – its gold leaf giving away its location through the madness of twigs and leaves.

It’s hard to describe the feelings I had at the sight of all this – thanks to Facebook I was already intimate with his work, and I had the same sensation I get when visiting the grand parents for Christmas — FAMILIARITY.

I experienced this once before when visiting the Andrew Wyeth Museum in Brandywine PA . A docent, in a hushed voice, told me that Kuerner’s Ranch was just a few minutes up the road. I have spent hundreds of hours looking at Wyeth’s book, Wyeth at Kuerner’s, and now I had the chance to see the real thing!

Along a bend in a country road, the farm appears at the bottom of the hill where Wyeth must have been painting right along side the road. That is the perspective of so many of his paintings at Kuerner’s. It was a uniquely profound moment for me . Like nothing I experienced before….and only experienced again now visiting Matt.

Via Facebook, I’ve watched a few pieces of Matt’s work develop from concept to completion.

It’s bizarre knowing someone by their artwork before you meet them in person. If you have the opportunity, I recommend you take it.

I felt a kinship with these ‘souls’ – his paintings – standing in the garden. I knew them like old friends. But who was Matt Wood – what was the creator like? Well, I was about to find out.

The sound of my motorcycle gave my arrival away. I hardly had time to pull my helmet off, when I heard the spring loaded screen door open and shut, and down the garden path came Mr. Wood, who caught me totally off guard by giving me a bear hug.

A champion water polo player in high school and college – let me assure you, Matt lacks nothing in stature. Six feet and change, he resembles a lumberjack more than an artist. A bushy, black, mustache packs the space between his nose and lip like a slumbering, overweight, caterpillar. Its density would raise pangs of envy in either Groucho Marx or Joseph Stalin.

Mr. Wood had exceptional qualities early on. He earned his way through university by his ability to swim, and later, his portfolio of art paid his way through L.A. Art Center ––– exceptional, no?

For a guy with such astounding credentials to be so hospitable, tells me Matt Wood is an authentic man and a humble artist. His wife, Joanna, is the wax seal on that declaration. She too is exceptional, equally gracious, and no less worthy of a blog of her own, if only I had time to know more about her.

Inside the house, a retrospect of Matt’s work adorns the walls as tastefully as any gallery. There is a four foot jetliner – impeccably drawn in graphite pencil – pointed straight for the floor in the dining room. Further along that same wall to the right, are two heads – six times their size in real life – The paintings go beyond photo realistic, they become actually real.

My favorites, though, are his small formats. They are like looking through knotholes in a fence. A full life figure is drawn on a support the size of legal paper. Again, graphite and super real. Then, on top of the glass is painted layers of dark earth tones, oozing down the glass with complete freedom. Subsequent layers reinforce the image: It’s a woman or man in a robe – someone from the Middle East, or maybe a biblical figure? The subject continues defining itself, now through layers of blood red paint, scantly manipulated by a brush. Finally, the outline is highlighted with gold leaf and glazes shape the figure into three dimensions. It’s extraordinary.

He also has paintings that look like his dog did them on the walls. It’s not for me to judge, or guess what inspired, but it might be safe to say it shows his willingness to sacrifice in the name of originality. The work was controlled, not just the result of a random emotion. You’d certainly weep, as I sometimes do, thinking about the work he ‘sacrificed‘ to achieve his expression of nonconformity….which, I’m sure, would not be Matt’s choice of words.

To close, a few pieces that endured the weathering in the garden hang finished on the walls. The oxidation derived by nature appears subtle, yet extremely complex. The very earth has imbued its patina. The most adept artist would have difficulty replicating the subtleties.

•••

It was a meaningful couple of days with my new friend, and I can’t easily thank him for being so willing to open his door to a perfect stranger.

I gained a lot speaking to him. I feel I have descended deeper into the world of art and caught a glimpse of the depths were the monsters dwell. This is mindful stuff – and no drugs taken. Real artist are tradesman, professionals with very strict ethics.

Matt is an example of immortal perseverance to succeed with his art – it was an honor to sit in his presence.