In this occasional series, we talk to plein air artists about a piece of art that inspired them when they were young. This week, Steven James Petruccio, a painter based in New York State, discusses an image he pored over as a child, and now sees every day in his home.
Lead Image: “Christina’s World,” by Andrew Wyeth, 1948, tempera on panel, 32 1/4 x 47 3/4 in. Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York
When we asked Petruccio about an early influence, “I didn’t even have to think,” he says. “Andrew Wyeth’s ‘Christina’s World’ was the painting that did it for me, set me off in a number of directions.” Petruccio grew up in an artist’s home in Brooklyn, but art was treated like a job in his household — his dad worked as an art director, airbrushing images. Petruccio was much more concerned with comic books. Then he came across a book in his home about Andrew Wyeth and the Olson family. Among the color plates was “Christina’s World,” one of the most iconic American paintings of the last century.
“I knew nothing about Andrew Wyeth,” says Petruccio. “I knew comic books. But there was something about that painting — the figure had an almost a Frank Frazetta pose to me. That heroic pose appealed to me. I read soon after about what the painting was really about.”
Andrew Wyeth may have provided the fork in Petruccio’s road, but N.C. Wyeth was his next stop. “I looked up the name ‘Wyeth’ and learned about N.C.,” says Petruccio. “Suddenly, I didn’t want to be a comic book artist anymore. I wanted to be an illustrator. I still loved ‘Christina’s World.’ Andrew’s work had a different emotional quality, but it still had that heroic aspect to it. And learning more about the story behind the painting, Christina became a heroic figure again.” Petruccio immersed himself in the work and teachings of Burne Hogarth and Andrew Loomis, and the lessons in Michelangelo’s work.
Decades later, Petruccio finds one primary, and very different, lesson in “Christina’s World.”
“I look at it now on a totally different level,” he says. “I look at the abstract quality of the work. The technique is great, but the question that Wyeth seemed to ask was, ‘What is just enough?’ So now, when I paint, I ask myself, what do I really need? It’s sensory overload out there when you are plein air painting. I have to focus on what is important to me today. I still have a print of ‘Christina’s World’ hanging in my home. For me, that painting is about saying a lot with so little.”