Columbus Dispatch (OH)
Exhibit | Keny Galleries: Landscapes convey sense of urgency
Christopher A. Yates
For The Columbus
March 10, 2013 9:02 AM
A unique voice in early- 20th-century American scene painting, Charles
Burchfield pushed the medium of watercolor to new heights by capturing the
essential character of the natural environment.
An exhibit of his landscapes is on view at Keny Galleries in German Village.
Burchfield grew up in Salem, Ohio, and trained at the Cleveland Art Institute
from 1912 to 1916, then spent much of his creative life in Buffalo and Seneca,
N.Y. He died in 1967.
Nature was his inspiration and catalyst. His work delves into the sights,
sounds and sensations of the American landscape. He painted what was nearby.
Every piece is marked by an almost frenetic and urgent effort to immerse the
viewer in the experience of place.
The exhibit touches upon the metaphysical and transcendental, with works
running the emotional gamut from ecstasy to despair.
Particularly strong are works that show Burchfield’s treatment of seasons and
weather conditions. With a palpable immediacy, his mark-making and color
choices express the physical sensation of the transient moment — when rain
starts to fall or the wind rustles through tree branches.
In November Wind, trees bend against a gray sky. Burchfield allows the
arc of heavy, dark brushstrokes to signal both branches and movement. In the
foreground, spent sunflowers speak to notions of finality and death.
In contrast, Early Spring captures a rainstorm. Although the sky is
gray and there is certainly the indication of movement, his mark is lighter
and less threatening. Yellow flowers and green grass are coming to life
throughout the image.
Sultry Moon is eerie. The moon is the central focus, but peripheral plant
forms become spider webs and masked faces. Using a radiating mark, the image
exudes a type of threatening stasis— like the pulsing sound of cicadas on a
hot summer evening.
His ability to translate mark into sensation is extraordinary. In Song of
the Swampland, undulating grays become humidity and moisture. A less fluid
and more discreet mark in Winter Scene suggests stillness and cold.
Burchfield is widely credited with saying, “As an artist grows older, he has
to fight disillusionment and learn to establish the same relation to nature as
an adult as he had when a child.” Hypnotic and quirky, his work exudes
curiosity, sensitivity and childlike wonder. He reminds us how to look at the
world around us.