Saturday, June 15, 2024

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Why we all need an unflinching eye

Documentary "Jamie Wyeth and the Unflinching Eye" screens at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center on Sunday, June 2 as part of the Berkshire International Film Festival.

Jamie Wyeth and the Unflinching Eye” is among my top three movies so far this year. Why? Because Glenn Holsten’s 2024 release offers audiences an intimate hour and a half with American realist painter Jamie Wyeth. Berkshire viewers can catch this wonderful documentary at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center at 4:15 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, June 2. In other words, Woman on the Verge recommends ordering tickets here.

Obviously, Wyeth was born into an artistic clan; without a doubt, he is genetically predisposed to painting. This is true because his father was Andrew Wyeth, and his grandfather N.C. Wyeth. At the same time, Holsten tells us his aunt Carolyn Wyeth was his first formal art teacher. Who knew?

On the other hand, the film presents Jamie Wyeth as an artistic force in his own right. He does have an unflinching eye, well proven by the backstory of his portrait of pioneering pediatric cardiologist Dr. Helen Taussig. I love this painting, which clearly depicts the doctor’s unflinching eyes, too. For many years though, it was treated like something stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum—hidden from public view.

Wyeth also possesses a great sense of humor, evident by his pumpkin-headed self-portrait. Indeed, Wyeth’s identity as a painter in some ways seems stronger than his identity as a Wyeth. That he walks around in baggy knickers wearing mismatched socks only adds to his charm.

Berkshire viewers, especially Jacob’s Pillow fans, will totally appreciate a chunk of the film that focuses on Wyeth’s stunning drawings and paintings of Rudolf Nureyev. His Warhol portraits lack the same cachet from where I sit, but the clips of Andy and Jamie just talking together are priceless.

Perhaps the most remarkable paintings of the whole film are those of Phyllis Mills, his wife of over 50 years. Their connection is palpable in his renderings of her, even as she became more disabled throughout her life. Clearly, they were each other’s muse.

Finally, I would be completely remiss if I did not mention how much two islands off the coast of Maine factor in this excellent documentary. The first is Monhegan Island, the other Southern Island.

Watching this film from the safe harbor of Nantucket, it was delightfully amusing to hear Wyeth discuss how he came to prefer one over the other—when Monhegan’s year-round population peaked at 75 people. Needless to say, Wyeth owns the Tenants Harbor Lighthouse and Southern Island, which is much less crowded than Monhegan.

A word to the wise: Some of the best views of both will appear on the big screen at the Mahaiwe early next month.

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