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Pasatiempo - - Onstage This Week - Woody GWyn

Woody Gwyn’s painted land­scapes vividly em­pha­size the spe­cial places that sur­round us and that we rou­tinely for­get to no­tice. Some of his im­agery — of re­ced­ing rail­road tracks in Gal­is­teo Junc­tion II or long stretches of high­way, as in Road Cut, for ex­am­ple — bring out the idea of jour­ney. Im­ages like Pa­cific Coast and River Bridge show de­tails only vis­i­ble from a lofty per­spec­tive.

Gwyn is ob­vi­ously fond of re­al­ism, al­though his fo­cus has var­ied over the years. In the late 1990s, he was work­ing with sub­jects from old post­cards and pho­to­graphs, as well as paint­ings by per­sonal he­roes such as Fred­eric Ed­win Church. Two from the lat­ter cat­e­gory are in­cluded in a show at the Brandy­wine River Mu­seum in Chadds Ford, Penn­syl­va­nia. “I am work­ing in oils now, but those were both egg tem­pera, trompe l’oeil, fool-the-eye things I did eight or nine years ago,” he said in a re­cent in­ter­view. The sub­jects were Church’s paint­ings of Ni­a­gara Falls and the Co­topaxi vol­cano.

No mat­ter the medium, Gwyn’s de­pic­tions are the re­sult of an eye trained to pick out the ex­tra­or­di­nary in the or­di­nary and a par­tic­u­lar ded­i­ca­tion to sur­face. “I re­mem­ber,” he said, “An­to­nio Lopez Gar­cía was asked if the sur­face of his work was the most im­por­tant thing, and he said, ‘It’s not the most im­por­tant thing. It’s the only thing.’ And I rather agree with him on that.”

Gwyn showed a knack for art as a young­ster grow­ing up in Mid­land, Texas. He was ex­posed to painters in­clud­ing Mil­ton Res­nick and Richard Diebenkorn, who were brought to town by a lo­cal art club to give talks and classes. “But the real cat­a­lyst for me to be­come an artist was when I was vis­it­ing a rel­a­tive in San An­to­nio in 1956 and the McNay Art Mu­seum had just opened,” he said. “One of the first shows was a show of [Mex­i­can painter José Cle­mente] Orozco, and when I saw that, I wanted to be an artist. There was a huge draw­ing, a study for his fresco Man of Fire. Then not too long af­ter that, I went to Roswell and saw the mu­seum there and the Peter Hurd col­lec­tion, and that also ex­cited me with the idea of be­ing an artist.”

When Gwyn was 18, he met Hurd, an artist and Roswell na­tive who sug­gested he study at the Penn­syl­va­nia Academy of the Fine Arts. Gwyn did so and later stud­ied with Carolyn Wyeth, sis­ter of re­al­ist painter An­drew Wyeth and of Hen­ri­ette Wyeth, who be­came Hurd’s wife.

The first art show fea­tur­ing his paint­ings was in 1965 at Canyon Art Gallery in Canyon, Texas. The most re­cent en­tries on his long list of ex­hi­bi­tions are 2010 shows at David Findlay Jr. Fine Art in New York City; the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery at Ge­orge Washington Uni­ver­sity in Washington, D.C.; and Le­wAllen Gal­leries in Santa Fe.

To­day Gwyn of­ten works on lo­ca­tion, trav­el­ing in a van that dou­bles as a stu­dio. “My ba­sic im­pulse has al­ways been as a land­scape painter, and I’ve done plein-air work for all my ca­reer,” he said. “I found that just tak­ing pho­to­graphs is not enough. Some­times I look at them when they’re de­vel­oped, and I don’t know why I took them. Work­ing out­side di­rectly from the sub­ject keeps me in mind of what I was in­ter­ested in.” He can also re­fer to stacks of sketch­books he has ac­cu­mu­lated over the years.

While Gwyn is best known for his scenes of the Amer­i­can West, he spent time out­side of Philadel­phia and on a farm near Mid­dle­burg, Vir­ginia, last spring and is now work­ing on “some East­ern ideas,” as he put it. “I do like to go to other places, but it’s al­ways great com­ing back to New Mex­ico. I’ve been in Gal­is­teo 36 years, and I must say there are still lots of ideas. You know, Cézanne said an artist can find all he needs to paint within two miles of where he lives, and I keep find­ing things to paint just down the road.”

— Paul Wei­de­man

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