A blog by Bradley Phillips

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Charles Burchfield -A Space Odyssey

The Burchfield Penny Art Center here in buffalo is ending its exhibition Heat Waves In A Swamp, paintings by Charles Burchfield in 2 weeks. It is free to Buffalo State students and only $5 for others students. The gallery has set up the exhibition chronologically, and the walk through the gallery is a visual journey through the life of Charles Burchfield.

Charles early watercolor work is simple, so simple in fact it reminds me of the type of work one might see at a high school art show. While it might be easy to brush off these works, they gallery makes a distinct effort to place emphasis on them. Each image is accompanied by a small insight taken from messages by Charles to the then MoMA curator Alfred Barr. It quickly becomes evident the importance of these images. To me what separates them from high school art is their content relevance. While a student spends much of their time searching for a style and subject matter that fits his or her prose, Charles early work touches on 3 majors topics that would define his work through out his life. The first being medium, second being the his expression of the human condition, and third his perspective and connection to nature (this one is important because some interesting things start going on in his work based on this topic).

His work, while progressing in visual style, hits a division that is clearly noticeable and seems almost odd at first. It is his fanciful landscapes that he is known for, but within his work are a few pieces that almost seem reminiscent of Edward Hopper. Edward's potential influence is questionable, however within these watercolor paintings is a connection with his "classic" work that took me some time to unravel. The key for me to understanding these almost separate pieces was having a lifetime of works at my immediate viewing disposal. Among his classically styled works are a number that focus on storms and weather but more specifically the condition of nature, almost like a parallel to the condition of man. Once one can understand that Charles's connection to nature is one much like the connection to a friend; sharing mutual affection, bond, sympathy and trust it becomes evident of his intention to subjectively exemplify both the beauty of nature, the terror of nature, and the horror of mans industrial affect on nature. Because it is this juxtaposition of the tragic and depressive with the beauty and character of nature that bonds the two styles together.

On a side note, anyone who has read C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy will greatly appreciate the fanciful quality of Charles work.

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