Focus On: Grant Wood

One of Mark’s most popular works from his WE sculpture series is titled Homage to Grant Wood. Most people instantly recognize this quintessentially American pose – a couple side by side, the man holding a pitchfork aloft. The artist of the original painting is Grant Wood, who was born in Iowa and spent most of his life there.

Mark’s interpretation of American Gothic is pared-down, with slick lines and elongated forms. Nevertheless, it bears an unmistakable resemblance to the oil painting below.

WE sculpture series

Grant Wood, American Gothic, 1930, oil on canvas, collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Note the interesting details: the farmer’s pitchfork is mimicked on the smock of his overalls. The lace curtains in the top window have polka dots similar to those on the woman’s apron. These subtle details reinforce traditional male/female roles of rural America – the lace is soft and domestic, the sharp pitchfork suggests a masculine industriousness.

The models for American Gothic: do you think they’re trying to mimic the serious faces in the painting? Something tells me they are. Look at the man’s very subtle smile!

Most people don’t know that the painting was originally inspired by the building in the background, a Gothic-style farmland building. The painting shows a farmer standing beside his unmarried daughter, but in reality the woman pictured was Grant Wood’s sister Nan, standing beside their family dentist, Dr. Byron McKeeby. 

Mark White started his WE sculpture series in response to the political distinction of the “99%”, signifying unequal wealth distribution in America and elsewhere. A clear parallel exists for Wood’s portrait, which was made in the early days of the Great Depression.