Mind Matters — A Psychologist’s Projections on Jamie Wyeth’s Art

The Boston Museum of Fine Arts opened its retrospective exhibition of Jamie Wyeth’s works on July 16, 2014; and, as the fates allowed, I was there.

Objectively speaking, it is doubtful anyone would deny Jamie Wyeth’s extraordinary skill and expertise as an artist. However, my reflections here are simply subjective—pure projections of my own psyche.

First of all, I was delighted to be able to see “Bale of Hay” again. When I first viewed this painting years ago when it briefly hung at the Brandywine River Museum, I was in awe. This bale of hay sitting in a field was filled with light: it was a glimpse of the sacred in the ordinary. I was reminded of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s words, “Earth's crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God, But only he who sees takes off his shoes; The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”

So too with the painting of a barn with a bag of lime spilling onto the ground. As the light strikes its whiteness, it shimmers. (“Lime Bag”)

One early morning driving down Creek Road, I spotted a man studying a gnarled tree. It was Andrew Wyeth. Now, I had passed that spot many times and didn’t notice the tree that made its own fairy cave with its roots. But Andy did. And Jamie Wyeth would too. I relate this story here, because I think the bag of lime and the hay bale we take for granted is like that tree. If we don’t take time to look, we don’t see the light, the shadow, the mystery in the everyday.

But the other side of the mystery is not so tame. Consider Wyeth’s “Inferno.” This is a large painting of Cat Bates, a shirtless island boy feeding a garbage-burning incinerator. Gulls swoop for scraps before the conflagration. My free association here? Is this an allegory of our lives of consumption? Or is it about earth being swallowed up in global warming? Impure projections … .

What also fascinated me as a psychologist with a Jungian interest in dreams, is how Jamie’s art is informed by his dreams. His recent works of turbulent seas with his father and grandfather standing on the rocky shore with Andy Warhol as observer are his dreamscapes. However, one person’s dreams can speak to the collective unconscious of us all.