Tuesday, January 27, 2009

John Updike- Novelist Whose Second Love Was Painting- Dies at 76

Alex Katz
Portrait of John Updike
Oil on canvas, 1982
Time cover, October 18, 1982
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Gift of Time magazine

John Updike has died at the age of 76. Updike's richly imagined novels chronicle the loves and losses of a post-Depression generation growing up during and away from the horrors of World War II into the uncertainty and the promise of the late 20th Century. Updike's second love was painting. Hillel Italie writes for AP that after graduating from Harvard, John Updike accepted "a one-year fellowship to study painting at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Arts at Oxford University. During his stay in England, a literary idol, E.B. White, offered him a position at The New Yorker, where he served briefly as foreign books reviewer. Many of Updike's reviews and short stories were published in The New Yorker, often edited by White's stepson, Roger Angell."

Updike did not pursue the visual arts as a profession but he wrote intelligently and personally about painting in particular. George Waldman wrote in the New Statesman that Updike was " a gentle critic, whose infatuation with the appearance of things makes him sympathetically attentive to everything he sees. He is also a patriot, whose writings on American art are character-ised not so much by defensiveness - there is often no need for it - as by a genially stubborn resolve to ensure that his country's artists are given their due."

Last May, John Updike gave a lecture entitled "What is American About American Art" at the Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities in Washington DC. Updike spoke at length about Picturing America, a series of reproductions of American paintings that will be given to schoolrooms across the country.

Winslow Homer
The Veteran in a New Field
24 1/8 x 38 1/8 in oil on canvas 1865
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Bequest of Miss Adelaide Milton de Groot (1876–1967)

Updike viewed Winslow Homer's The Veteran in a New Field, painted in 1865, as a celebration of "the widespread return of Civil War armies from the fields of battle as a triumph of a democratic society.” Homer's image could speak for the scores of American troops who will return to civilian life in the next few years as our current armies begin their long return from Iraq.

Updike's collections of art writing - Just Looking and Still Looking are written more from a fan's viewpoint than a critics and are quite rewarding because of this unique viewpoint.

Updike's novel Seek My Face concerns a fictional American postwar painter.
Random House explains that the novel " takes place in one day, a day that contains much conversation and some rain. The seventy-eight-year-old painter Hope Chafetz, who in the course of her eventful life has been Hope Ouderkirk, Hope McCoy, and Hope Holloway, answers questions put to her by a New York interviewer named Kathryn, and recapitulates, through the story of her own career, the triumphant, poignant saga of postwar American art. In the evolving relation between the two women, the interviewer and interviewee move in and out of the roles of daughter and mother, therapist and patient, predator and prey, supplicant and idol. The scene is central Vermont; the time is the early spring of 2001." The writing in Seek My Face is lyrical and the story is a rich rumination on American art.

More at:
NPR on Updike's Collection of Art Writing: Still Looking
NPR: Alan Cheuse Talks About Seek My Face (real audio)
New Statesman on Updike
Updike on Picturing America

No comments: