Sheet: 51 x 44.3 cm (20 1/16 x 17 7/16 in.); Image: 43.3 x 33.5 cm (17 1/16 x 13 3/16 in.)
James Parmelee Fund 2003.239
© VAGA, New York, NY
Robert Gwathmey’s work mingles the memories of a pleasant childhood in the South with an adult
awareness of the miseries of racism and poverty. In Farmer’s Wife, he depicts an elderly, hard-working, yet poor figure as a dignified and important person. Gwathmey said she "is my response to a lady of character who has borne the scars of outrageous circumstance and has refused to be destroyed." Her large, strong hands exemplify an expressive distortion of the human figure, an idea--like the reduction and simplification of forms--derived from Picasso. Flat areas of bright color, encouraged by the screenprinting technique, are enhanced by lively linear accents.
Although white, Gwathmey was extremely sympathetic toward the plight of the impoverished, rural African-American farm workers whose lives worsened considerably during the Great Depression. The artist was a native Virginian who studied and taught art in the North, but when he won a Rosenwald Fellowhip in 1944, he chose to return to the South and worked in the fields. He explained, "I picked tobacco because I wanted to know the whole story...I couldn’t sit there and make a sort of representational...if I hadn’t done it myself."
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