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MARCH 2001

The extreme simplification of objects--"stylization"--and the precision with which he painted are qualities that quickly become recognizable in all of Grant Wood's best work. Both are clearly present in this picture, which depicts spring plowing in Wood's native state of Iowa. He did not achieve this personal style until he was about 40 years old, and because of his early death at age 50, his finest work was produced during the last 10 years of his life.

Another characteristic of Wood's art that appears in this picture is his liking for landscape views as they might be seen from high above a normal eye level. In this picture, it seems as though he was looking through the eyes of a bird in flight. For this reason, an aerial view is often described as a "bird's-eye viewpoint." Today, of course, airplanes and helicopters make such views commonplace, but until recently, they were difficult to show and relied heavily on the skill and imagination of an artist.

One attraction of aerial views is that an artist can include much more from high above a scene than is possible from a normal eye level, where the viewer is much closer to the ground. However, such scenes remove the possibility of including a foreground. As a result, everything in this picture is distant and objects look very small.

The difference between this view and real life, however, lies in the highly detailed painting. A similar treatment of details in landscapes was common in European paintings from the later Middle Ages and early Renaissance--a period that greatly influenced Wood--although such scenes often appeared only as backgrounds for close-up images of important people.

This painting is the result of extensive preparations. Before starting on the finished picture, Wood modeled the landscape in clay, and made full-sized drawings with charcoal, pencil and chalk. This enabled him to solve most of the artistic problems of the picture in advance, leaving him free to concentrate on his painting skills.

The most noticeable qualities of "Spring Turning" are the large, swelling volumes of the rolling Iowa prairie, made more prominent by extreme simplification. In real life, the underlying form of the land may be simple, but it is usually difficult to see because of buildings, gullies, ponds, clumps of trees, fences and roadways. Wood reduced or did away entirely with these interferences to reveal the simplicity of the landscape.

The lush green of the grass and the rich brown of the plowed earth depict its fertility, but Wood focuses more attention on the smooth massive forms of the land than anything else. This smoothness is achieved by careful painting of the curves to give very smooth shading (gradations).

About the only part of the picture that is painted less carefully are the irregular clouds that float overhead; but in this painting, the sky--unlike many landscape paintings--occupies only a very small part of the composition.

Wood uses the rectangular areas that have been partially plowed to draw added attention to the simple contours. They are like parts of an abstract quilt design. The contours are made even more noticeable by the low angle of the sunlight that lights one side of the hills and puts the others in shadow.

While the overall simplicity of the landscape dominates this painting, viewers are sure to find themselves also searching out the jewel-like miniatures of the plowmen and their teams of horses, the half-hidden farmhouse, the herd of cows, the track of the country road, together with the tiny bridge and the surrounding trees. Even the fence posts around the fields have been carefully included.

This scene seemed old-fashioned even in 1936, as farmers were already using tractors for plowing. But Wood often returned in his paintings to his memories of farm life in the 1890s. In many ways, however, this is not important. What is important is the artist's deep feelings for the sacredness of the earth. For him, the land was a gigantic living force and the people and animals living on it were extremely small. Moreover, good farming is an example of mankind in harmony with nature.
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Title Annotation:artist Grant Wood
Author:Hubbard, Guy
Publication:Arts & Activities
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2001
Words:690
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