Pumpkinhead–Self Portrait demonstrates this dreamlike imagery for which Wyeth is most celebrated. Dressed entirely in black, the artist stands slightly off center amid an anonymous autumn landscape. Jack-o'-lanterns appear in several of Wyeth's paintings, and when asked about his attraction the artist responded, “If you look at them, they’re rather haunting. It’s a sneer, not a grin. That’s what intrigued me–go beyond the sort of cuteness of a pumpkin” (“After Six Decades, Painter Jamie Wyeth Continues to Surprise,” Here & Now, Interview by Robin Young, wbur, Boston, Massachusetts, August 14, 2014, radio).
This surreal and slightly eerie self-portrait also displays Wyeth’s technical ability and his achievement in the realist tradition. He was elected to the esteemed National Academy of Design in New York in 1969 at the age of 23, making him the youngest artist to be recognized since the organization’s founding. The Academy requires all members to submit a self-portrait as part of the induction process, and Wyeth entered Pumpkinhead upon its completion in 1972. Reflecting on the process, he remarked, “I didn’t want to do myself in a self-portrait, but I love pumpkins. It’s the sinisterness, the Halloween I’ve always loved. It’s a little bit edgy. So I did it and of course they were furious and rejected it” (Ibid). Following the Academy’s rejection of Pumpkinhead, Wyeth submitted a semi-nude self-portrait to secure his lifelong membership.
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