In Deserted Light of 1977, Andrew Wyeth depicts his home on Southern Island in Tenants Harbor, Maine. In the work, Wyeth presents a stark, lonely representation, emphasized by the title. In the 1920s his father, N.C. Wyeth, purchased a home in Port Clyde, Maine and not long after, Andrew spent every summer there and became captivated by the place: "Maine to me is almost like going to the surface of the moon. I feel things are just hanging on the surface and that it's all going to blow away. In Maine, everything seems to be dwindling with terrific speed." (as quoted in T. Hoving, Two Worlds of Andrew Wyeth: Kuerners and Olsons, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1976, p. 3)
In Deserted Light, Wyeth has isolated and cropped the lightkeeper's house, giving a sense of ambiguity to the work. "Although celebrated as a great American realist, Andrew Wyeth has generally offered mystery rather than certainty in his art. The power of the unseen at work in nature and in human life gives his art its power and unique presence...Clearly, like his father, N.C. Wyeth, Andrew has sought and found certain strategies to communicate with a broad, now international audience. That audience has the opportunity to go deep into his art, to find the elusive spirit that has animated these exquisite panels from the outset of the artist's adventure." (S.C. Larsen, Wondrous Strange, New York, 1998, p. 18)
Similar to the work of Edward Hopper, Wyeth concentrates on architectural fragments, assigning personalities to structures. Often giving them a sense of brooding and loneliness, he uses windows as eyes that lend to a building's character. In Deserted Light, Wyeth expertly conveys solitude to the viewer as he renders the windows of the lighthouse completely empty while the window of the house is opaque, preventing the viewer visual entry. Wyeth also adeptly captures the varying textures of the building to develop the portrait of the structure. The home on Southern Island is worn and battered as bricks emerge from the white paint. "Wyeth's ambition is to be able to submerge himself totally in his subjects and their lives, achieving such intimacy that it will inevitably permeate his painting." (R. Meryman, Andrew Wyeth, Boston, Massachusetts, 1968, p. 22)
In Deserted Light, Wyeth employs watercolor to successfully capture the solitary tone. Wyeth said about the medium, "With watercolor, you can pick up the atmosphere, the temperature, the sound of snow sifting through the trees or over the ice of a small pond, or against a windowpane." (as quoted in Two Worlds of Andrew Wyeth: Kuerners and Olsons, p. 33) The only sense of movement in the work are the long grasses in the foreground that bend to the light breeze, scratched into the surface to add depth. Wyeth exploits the white of the paper for the building and then applies watercolor with an economy of wash, creating an almost abstract composition. Wyeth makes a point of saying "Why not have the abstraction and the real, too? Combine the two, bring in the new with the traditional and you can't beat it. I believe, however, that I don't want to let the one take over the other. I try for an equal balance...I want the object to be there in my paintings, perhaps in all of its smallest detail, not as a tour de force, but naturally, in such a way that I have backed into it." (as quoted in Two Worlds of Andrew Wyeth: Kuerners and Olsons, p. 18)
Wyeth adds to the starkness of the work by setting a large, dark anchor in the foreground and the metal top of the lighthouse against the white of the building. He said, "I love white things. One night I was out walking and saw this lime bank near an old kiln and it gleamed dry white in the moonlight...Oh, I love white. Marvelous. It excites my imagination." (as quoted in W.M. Corn, The Art of Andrew Wyeth, Greenwich, Connecticut, 1973, p. 75) The application of paint is also varied as he uses large swaths of watercolor juxtaposed with thin, detailed brushstrokes. "Wyeth regards his watercolors as anything but precious. Tears frequently appear along the edges and many are creased or smudged. Working at a furious pace, he may hurl one study to the ground and quickly take up another. Typically, his watercolors begin--and end--outdoors." (B. Venn, "Process of Invention: The Watercolors of Andrew Wyeth," Unknown Terrain: The Landscapes of Andrew Wyeth, New York, 1998, p. 45)
The care and concern with which Wyeth portrays his subject in Deserted Light makes for a deeply personal and intimate picture. In his presentation of the weather-beaten house, Wyeth captures a sense of the ephemerality and isolation that emblemized Maine for him.
This watercolor will be included in Betsy James Wyeth's forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's work.