Jamie Wyeth does not see seagulls in a romantic and reverential way—neither as a friend to sailors nor savior of pioneers. He sees in them an embodiment of all that is prideful, gluttonous, avaricious, envying, lustful, slothful and angry. He sees in these creatures the personification of the seven deadly sins. And here, in Utah, where the seagull has iconic significance, his new exhibition “Jamie Wyeth: Seven Deadly Sins,” will be exhibited outside of his home state of Maine for the first time. Irony aside, Salt Lake Art Center is proud to host Wyeth’s exhibition.
Such pride is justified for Wyeth’s work and also his artistic lineage. He is a son of Andrew Wyeth, legendary painter of “Americana” in the mid-20th century and the iconic “Helga” pictures of the 1980s. Jamie Wyeth perpetuates the family legacy with his own venerable political commissions and paintings of nature. His most common subjects are birds, but the “seven deadly sins,” for Wyeth, is a departure, painting beneath the surface of animal life.
Within the work on exhibit, the featured paintings are seven seagull canvases, each representing a “deadly sin” (“Anger” is pictured). Wyeth paints the animals with vigor and energy, their bodies composed of heavy brushwork, the colors intense and contrasting, and the results a little scary. Wyeth objectifies these birds. These animals that so gracefully soar the sky, Wyeth suggests, can be avatars of evil. Is the work rhetorical or is he probing human nature, as well? The viewer will have to judge.