Grant Wood by R. Tripp Evans
A Life

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Synopsis

He claimed to be “the plainest kind of fellow you can find. There isn’t a single thing I’ve done, or experienced,” said Grant Wood, “that’s been even the least bit exciting.”

Wood was one of America’s most famous regionalist painters; to love his work was the equivalent of loving America itself. In his time, he was an “almost mythical figure,” recognized most supremely for his hard-boiled farm scene, American Gothic, a painting that has come to reflect the essence of America’s traditional values—a simple, decent, homespun tribute to our lost agrarian age.

In this major new biography of America’s most acclaimed, and misunderstood, regionalist painter, Grant Wood is revealed to have been anything but plain, or simple . . .

R. Tripp Evans reveals the true complexity of the man and the image Wood so carefully constructed of himself. Grant Wood called himself a farmer-painter but farming held little interest for him. He appeared to be a self-taught painter with his scenes of farmlands, farm workers, and folklore but he was classically trained, a sophisticated artist who had studied the Old Masters and Flemish art as well as impressionism. He lived a bohemian life and painted in Paris and Munich in the 1920s, fleeing what H. L. Mencken referred to as “the booboisie” of small-town America.

We see Wood as an artist haunted and inspired by the images of childhood; by the complex relationship with his father (stern, pious, the “manliest of men”); with his sister and his beloved mother (Wood shared his studio and sleeping quarters with his mother until her death at seventy-seven; he was forty-four).

We see Wood’s homosexuality and how his studied masculinity was a ruse that shaped his work.

Here is Wood’s life and work explored more deeply and insightfully than ever before. Drawing on letters, the artist’s unfinished autobiography, his sister’s writings, and many never-before-seen documents, Evans’s book is a dimensional portrait of a deeply complicated artist who became a “National Symbol.” It is as well a portrait of the American art scene at a time when America’s Calvinistic spirit and provincialism saw Europe as decadent and artists were divided between red-blooded patriotic men and “hothouse aesthetes.”

Thomas Hart Benton said of Grant Wood: “When this new America looks back for landmarks to help gauge its forward footsteps, it will find a monument standing up in the midst of the wreckage . . . This monument will be made out of Grant Wood’s works.”


From the Hardcover edition.
 

About R. Tripp Evans

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R. Tripp Evans is Professor of Art History at Wheaton College in Massachusetts. He is the author of Romancing the Maya: Mexican Antiquity in the American Imagination, 1820-1915 (2004). He received his doctoral degree in the history of art from Yale University and has served as a visiting lecturer at Yale, Wellesley College, and Brown University. He and his partner, Ed Cabral, live in Providence, Rhode Island.
 
Published October 5, 2010 by Knopf. 432 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Arts & Photography, Gay & Lesbian. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Grant Wood

Kirkus Reviews

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The author’s decryption efforts come at the expense of traditional biographical detail, at times frustratingly so—there’s relatively little on the place of Wood’s work in the larger context of American art, and the commentary on Regionalism is mainly run through the filter of the homophobia of fe...

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The New York Times

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... Book Review - Grant Wood - By R. Tripp Evans OCT. ... Wanda Corn claims that "
it has been Grant Wood's fate to be widely known but narrowly ...

Oct 28 2010 | Read Full Review of Grant Wood: A Life

The New York Times

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He also loved to create images that, like “American Gothic,” ensure that “the viewer doesn’t know whether to giggle or shiver.” Mr. Evans offers intensive analysis of “American Gothic” as well as many other Wood paintings, most notably “Parson Weems’ Fable” (1939), which rivals “American Gothic”...

Oct 03 2010 | Read Full Review of Grant Wood: A Life

The New York Times

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A new biography of Grant Wood, the painter of “American Gothic,” presents him as a closeted gay man who used the canvas to reveal his feelings.

Oct 28 2010 | Read Full Review of Grant Wood: A Life

New York Journal of Books

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Disappointment comes in many wrappings.In the case of Grant Wood, by R.

Oct 05 2010 | Read Full Review of Grant Wood: A Life

AV Club

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Evans also persuasively posits that one of Wood’s primary modes was a subtle kind of camp, which he is careful to separate from both satire and kitsch: “camp is a form of creative subversion—visual, verbal, or performative—whose principal target is the artifice of gender.” For example, Wood paint...

Oct 14 2010 | Read Full Review of Grant Wood: A Life

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Tripp Evans opens his new biography of American artist Grant Wood with a story about Wood's curious ability to blend in anywhere to the point where people who knew him well had trouble noticing his presence.

Dec 12 2010 | Read Full Review of Grant Wood: A Life

Chicago Tribune

The homoerotic perspective that Evans brings to bear works to deny the feminine aspects of Wood's work along the way, as he details Wood's "fetishization of the male body."

Oct 22 2010 | Read Full Review of Grant Wood: A Life

Chicago Tribune

Evans has a conjecture that what changed Wood and his work after his German visit was not an aesthetic but a moral perception of conflicting impulses: that exposure to openly gay culture in Weimar may have filled him with a sense of disillusionment and self-loathing when he was back in Iowa.

Oct 22 2010 | Read Full Review of Grant Wood: A Life

Chicago Tribune

James Dennis, prominent among previous interpreters of Wood's work, noted in his own book "Grant Wood" that "a curious dreamland reality descends upon nature" in those, in which Wood presents an "idealistic vision of the landscape that poeticized an agrarian myth" as no American had done before.

Oct 22 2010 | Read Full Review of Grant Wood: A Life

Chicago Tribune

James Dennis, prominent among previous interpreters of Wood's work, noted in his own book "Grant Wood" that "a curious dreamland reality descends upon nature" in those, in which Wood presents an "idealistic vision of the landscape that poeticized an agrarian myth" as no American had done before.

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Bookmarks Magazine

Art Winslow Onion AV Club 3.5 of 5 Stars "Evans sometimes overstates, as on Wood's ‘Parson Weems' Fable' (1939): ‘Like this last great painting, Wood's final years themselves suggest the structure of a fable.' But Evans' clear passion for Wood's work--and his deep knowledge of art history an...

Oct 03 2010 | Read Full Review of Grant Wood: A Life

Shelf Awareness

If the bustling, recession-inspired trade in used books tells us anything, it's that old books hold value for readers in a way that not even movies and music do.

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