Meet Maren Forsyth, a Senior at the University of New Hampshire, who is majoring in Art History. We would like to congratulate Ms. Forsyth on being selected as one of three recipients of our Frederic Whitaker and Eileen Monaghan Whitaker Foundation Scholarships for the Spring 2017 term. As part of the application process, Ms. Forysth was asked to submit an essay response to a question about the Whitakers and their work. You can read Maren Forsyth’s artist statement and essay below:
“I am an Art History major with minors in Sociology, Spanish, and International Affairs. Last semester, I was fortunate to study abroad for five months in Granada, Spain and visited several works I was learning about, including La Alhambra.
My art history journey began when I took introduction to architectural history during sophomore year to fulfill a discovery requirement. I was intrigued to discover that architectural spaces have more of a purpose than just places to live, work, or entertain. With each lecture, I was intrigued by how architects employed the use of ribbed vaulting during the Gothic, how the décor during the Baroque displayed excessive exuberance, and how artists were fascinated with portraying organic life during the art nouveau. From that class forward, I was fascinated with the concepts of iconography, of vision, and the public reception of art. I have taken classes from the range of studying the life of Michelangelo to Late Medieval Art to studying the Rococo…
I am interested in working towards completing a graduate degree in Digital Media. My top career choice would be in art design and would like to eventually be an art director. I believe that with my art history background and with the graduate degree, I’ll be able to examine the past and bring it closer to present day conceptions…”
Essay Question: Americana: the paintings of Frederic Whitaker & Eileen Monaghan Whitaker, two distinctive views
Americana: That which reflects the charm and nostalgia of America’s past.
Watercolor is more ephemeral than other types of painting. Acrylic and oil have a greater concrete presence on the canvas or panel than watercolor, and with less precision it has a wider range of expressivity. The translucency of watercolor gives it a fleeting, ghost-like quality and creates nostalgia, even if the moment depicted was only a few days previous. The Whitaker’s choice of watercolor as a preferred medium amplifies the nostalgic elements in their painting: making the moments that they capture, whether from life or created from imagination, even more ethereal and untouchable.
When Frederic Whitaker paints cities, the buildings loom out towards the viewer, making the people seem like ants in comparison to the formidable skyscrapers ie: “Trinity Church.” Frederic’s works are complete narratives, leaving little to no questions. They lead the viewer from beginning to end, walking your eye up on a path towards the focus, and then letting your eye loose to explore the the fauna and sky behind. Color wise, he treats more important subjects with stronger, more vibrant colors, while separating the supporting elements by tinting them with more neutral shades of grays and browns. He doesn’t want the viewer to be confused on what part of the composition is the focus. He describes buildings by using strong, linear brushstrokes, while using curvilinear forms to construe the organic elements. Frederic has a formulaic approach to his art, continually customizing the conception of a true fore, mid, and background to adapt from scenes of country life to those of New York City.
“I Pledge Allegiance” shows the nuclear family saluting an American flag. Their homestead is down on the lower left corner while the flag dominates the composition in size and acts as the pinnacle of the work. The family looks peacefully at the flag, while the flag seems to be billowing in the fierce wind, turning and twisting in every way possible. A wreath wraps its way around the flagpole towards the golden eagle, the overseer of all. The work epitomizes the way a proper American family should feel about their homeland -hand over their heart, looking up towards that ideal of becoming the best and most productive citizen they can be. It also emphasizes a suburban or rural way of living rather than a focus on city life. This is a recurring theme for Frederic. He seems preoccupied with the industries that America was shifting away from ie: logging, fishing, or milling towards more white collar jobs in the city.
There is much more of an emotional connection with Eileen Whittaker’s perspective on America and this is shown through her painting techniques. More so than her husband, she is preoccupied with the relationship between nature and the female body. Formally, she doesn’t believe in the traditional background, uses various techniques such as splattering color to compose the background. Because of the informality of her compositions, ie: using oval vignettes as a frame rather than using the entire canvas, her works almost feel like dream visions, static and blurry like a having bad reception on a tv. Unlike Frederic, her architecture does not loom over the composition and instead extends beyond the canvas. The architecture is decentralizes and becomes a story about the smaller architectural spaces and the people rather than a showcase of architecture might. Her paintings are like microcosms of life, small insights into the working environment at large that make the viewer wonder about the details beyond those she provides. If there is a house, who lives there? If she paints a person, where is that person going? The viewer is an active participant, and the artist is no longer simply the messenger. There is an alive quality of her works, an expectation that something will change if one looks at it just long enough.
Compositions like “Nostalgia” from 1966, or “Fireworks” from 1979 are two very different takes for Eileen. “Nostalgia” shows Eileen’s taste for cropping the subject. One can’t see the entirety of the house, instead it seems more like a detail study. The vanishing point leads the eye towards where the doorknob is, and invites the viewer inside to explore. Her brush strokes create blocks of form rather than distinct outlines. In “Fireworks over San Diego,” Eileen uses a an oval vignette shape to frame the bay view. Inside, the cityscape of San Diego is represented by a peppering of red, white, gold, and blue colors. The shape is evocative of the shape of one’s own vision. Eileen still activates each edge by extending the form of some of the fireworks, beyond the oval vignette.
Eileen produces nostalgia for the rural landscape of America. Her works “Nostalgia,” “Fourth of July,” and “Winter New England” portray farm houses, each progressively further away. In this way the paintings function as a progression of society away from these acres of land towards suburban and city living. As America progressed towards this way of living, individual features and the sense of distinctiveness (especially concerning where one comes from) slipped away. One becomes part of the greater landscape, and the individual parts of a house or a person becomes indistinguishable. “Fireworks over San Diego,” an urban architectural outlier in this genre of her portfolio, the viewer is the furthest away and therefore has the least amount of personal connection to the subject.
Frederic and Eileen reflect on the charm of America’s post WWII life, when the culture shifted from mass production towards white collared suburban lifestyle. They were preoccupied with losing individuality and the human connection with nature. While Frederic demonstrates a more systematic style to his landscapes and Eileen more of a freedom with her composition, both Whitakers display the essence of what it means to be American, simple diversity. There is no one landscape that can summarize what America is all about. America is its’ bustling cities, and the farmers working tirelessly in the countryside.