The Columbus Dispatch (OH)

Exhibit | Keny Galleries: Landscapes convey sense of urgency

By Christopher A. Yates

For The Columbus Dispatch    Sunday 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.


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