Grant Wood [a life]

R. Tripp Evans, 1968-

Book - 2010

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Subjects
Published
New York : Alfred A. Knopf 2010.
Edition
1st ed
Language
English
Physical Description
xii, 402 p., [16] p. of plates : ill. (some col.), ports. ; 25 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN
9780307266293
030726629X
Main Author
R. Tripp Evans, 1968- (-)
  • Introduction
  • Paint like a man
  • American, Gothic
  • Wood into stone
  • A fabled life
  • Epilogue.
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* It seems so straightforward. Grant Wood, born in Iowa in 1891, was the overall-clad, all-American artist from the heartland who created one of the world's best-known and most-parodied paintings, American Gothic, a portrait of a pitchfork-grasping farmer and his dour daughter. But as art historian Evans so momentously and conscientiously reveals, Wood's folksy persona was formulated to camouflage his homosexuality. Evans tells the full, grievous story of Wood's struggle to conceal his true self in a harshly homophobic world for the sake of his art and career, presenting startling insights into Wood's trauma over failing to live up to his stern father's notion of masculinity, liberating sojourns in Paris in the 1920s, and the decision to return to Cedar Rapids, where he lived with his widowed mother, attained extraordinary renown, and helped change the face of American art. Evans examines Wood's complicated relationships with his mother and his sister, Nan, the female model for American Gothic; fellow artists; various assistants; and the colorful woman he disastrously married. Most arresting is Evans' bold decoding of the eroticism and caustic social commentary hidden in plain sight in Wood's hard-edged and profoundly unnerving paintings. A fascinating and heartrending portrait of an artist forced to sacrifice his right to happiness and wholeness. Copyright 2010 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Choice Reviews

In his meticulously researched biography of Grant Wood, Evans (Wheaton College in Massachusetts) skillfully disentangles the myth from the man. Almost universally known for his iconic painting American Gothic (1930), Wood has been enshrined in the art historical literature as the quintessential American artist who faithfully, if ironically, portrays the folksy values of his humble Midwestern compatriots. Through a close reading of primary source material, Evans makes a compelling case that Grant Wood was a closeted homosexual, a belief privately held or openly alluded to by many who knew him, including his wife, Sara Sherman Maxon. Having established Wood's probable sexual orientation and noting the artist's own ambivalence towards sexuality, Evans is able to tease out a wealth of convincing fresh interpretations for even Wood's best-known works. The apparent affection that Evans has for his subject shines through in his prose, which makes this richly illustrated work a pleasure to read for nonspecialists. Evans's keen eye and new readings of Wood's works will challenge, surprise, and provoke students and scholars. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-level undergraduates and above; general readers. Copyright 2011 American Library Association.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

The fame of the iconic, often parodied American Gothic has long masked its creator. Much about Grant Wood's patriotism and masculinity has been read into the painting's pitchfork-holding farmer and his dour companion standing in front of a Midwestern farmhouse. Evans, an art historian at Wheaton College in Massachusetts, argues that even more has been misread, overshadowing a rich and varied artistic career. Associated with the Regionalist movement in painting, Wood (1891–1942) cultivated a hearty Midwestern image that hid his homosexuality. What Wood hid from polite society, he could not help revealing in his paintings: "the object of his desire is only partially abstracted in --for in the undeniably erotic curves of Stone City, we register the muscular outlines of the powerful male body." His mother and his sister, Nan, further protected him. The complicated relationship included living together until Nan married--perhaps a reaction to Wood's hard and detached father, who died when Wood was 10. Evans's in-depth, gendered readings of Wood's paintings situate him in the longer history of male artists' gendered self-portrayals (bracketed by Oscar Wilde and Jackson Pollock), providing a useful new insight into Wood's place in American art. 16 pages of color photos; b&w illus. (Oct.) [Page ]. Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

A major new profile of the celebrated regionalist artist draws on his correspondence, unfinished biography and other direct sources to reveal his education and private conflicts while assessing how such pieces as American Gothic contrast with his darker personality.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Presents the life of the Midwestern artist, drawing on his correspondence, an unfinished biography, and other sources to reveal his private conflicts while assessing how such pieces as "American Gothic" contrast with his darker personality.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

Wood was one of America's most famous regionalist painters. In his time he was an "almost mythical figure," recognized supremely for his hard-boiled farm scene, American Gothic, a painting that has come to reflect the essence of America's traditional values--a simple decent, home spun tribute to our lost agrarian age. America's most acclaimed, and misunderstood, regionalist painter, Grant Wood, is revealed to have been anything but plain, or simple.

Review by Publisher Summary 4

He Claimed to be "the plainest kind of fellow you can find. There isn't a single thing I've done, or experienced," said Grant Wood, "that's been even the least bit exciting."Wood was one of America's most famous regionalist painters; to love his work was the equivalent of loving America itself. In this time, he was an "almost mythical figure," recognized most supremely for his hard-boiled farm scene, American Gothic, a painting that has come to reflect the essence of America's traditional values-a simple, decent, homespun tribute to our lost agrarian age.In this major new biography, America's most acclaimed, and misunderstood, regionalist painter, Grant Wood, is revealed to have been anything but plain, or simple...R. Tripp Evans reveals the true complexity of the man and the image Wood so carefully constructed of himself. Grant Wood called himself a farmer-painter but farming held little interest for him. He appeared to be a self-taught painter with his scenes of farmlands, farm workers, and folklore but he was classically trained, a sophisticated artist who had studied the Old Masters and Flemish art as well as impressionism. He lived a bohemian life and painted in Paris and Munich in the 1920's, fleeing what H.L. Mencken referred to as "the booboisie" of small-town America.We see Wood as an artist haunted and inspired by the images of childhood; by the complex relationship with his father (stern, pious, the "manliest of men"); with his sister and his beloved mother (Wood shared his studio and sleeping quarters with his mother until her death at seventy-seven; he was forty-four).We see Wood's homosexuality and how his studied masculinity was a ruse that shaped his work.Here is Wood's life and work explored more deeply and insightfully than ever before. Drawing on letters, the artist's unfinished autobiography, his sister's writings, and many never-before seen documents, Evans's book is a dimensional portrait of a deeply complicated artist who became a "National Symbol." It is as well a portrait of the American art Scene at a time when America's Calvinistic spirit and provincialism saw Europe as decadent and artist were divided between red-blooded patriotic men and "hothouse aesthetes."Thomas Hart Benton said of Grant Wood: "When this new America looks back for landmarks to help gauge its foreword footsteps, it will find a monument standing up in the midst of the wreckage... This monument will be made out of Grant Wood's works."

Review by Publisher Summary 5

He claimed to be “the plainest kind of fellow you can find. There isn’t a single thing I’ve done, or experienced,” said Grant Wood, “that’s been even the least bit exciting.”

Wood was one of America’s most famous regionalist painters; to love his work was the equivalent of loving America itself. In his time, he was an “almost mythical figure,” recognized most supremely for his hard-boiled farm scene, American Gothic, a painting that has come to reflect the essence of America’s traditional values—a simple, decent, homespun tribute to our lost agrarian age.

In this major new biography of America’s most acclaimed, and misunderstood, regionalist painter, Grant Wood is revealed to have been anything but plain, or simple . . .

R. Tripp Evans reveals the true complexity of the man and the image Wood so carefully constructed of himself. Grant Wood called himself a farmer-painter but farming held little interest for him. He appeared to be a self-taught painter with his scenes of farmlands, farm workers, and folklore but he was classically trained, a sophisticated artist who had studied the Old Masters and Flemish art as well as impressionism. He lived a bohemian life and painted in Paris and Munich in the 1920s, fleeing what H. L. Mencken referred to as “the booboisie” of small-town America.

We see Wood as an artist haunted and inspired by the images of childhood; by the complex relationship with his father (stern, pious, the “manliest of men”); with his sister and his beloved mother (Wood shared his studio and sleeping quarters with his mother until her death at seventy-seven; he was forty-four).

We see Wood’s homosexuality and how his studied masculinity was a ruse that shaped his work.

Here is Wood’s life and work explored more deeply and insightfully than ever before. Drawing on letters, the artist’s unfinished autobiography, his sister’s writings, and many never-before-seen documents, Evans’s book is a dimensional portrait of a deeply complicated artist who became a “National Symbol.” It is as well a portrait of the American art scene at a time when America’s Calvinistic spirit and provincialism saw Europe as decadent and artists were divided between red-blooded patriotic men and “hothouse aesthetes.”

Thomas Hart Benton said of Grant Wood: “When this new America looks back for landmarks to help gauge its forward footsteps, it will find a monument standing up in the midst of the wreckage . . . This monument will be made out of Grant Wood’s works.”