Thursday, September 16, 2010


“The subconscious mind seemed to be in complete control and I did unpremeditated things which later turned out to be exactly right.” Charles Burchfield, the master watercolorist—whose work is the subject of an exhibition now running at the Whitney—wrote that in 1952. The exhibition includes a 1920 edition of the famed literary magazine The Dial that contains five Burchfields, along with Cezanne’s Claire de Lune and two drawings by Kahlil Gibran. Burchfield’s Winter Twilight (1930) is reminiscent of Hopper—a solitary storefront on a windblown street with silhouettes framed in the window. Clover Fields in June (1947) brings to mind Cezanne. Burchfield comments about another painting of threatening bare-branched trees at the edge of a swamp, which bears resemblance to Charles Addams’s Gothicism, “The mood I aimed at was the anger of God—a Good Friday mood.” In Autumnal Fantasy (1916-1944), nature is depicted as a beautiful bad dream in which the Nuthatch’s cry is visualized. Burchfield’s dire visual affect depicted an uninviting natural world, transformed into beauty by technique. In the beginning of his career, Burchfield painted what he called “conventions”—portraits of emotion, either externalized in nature or as interior states. Whether painting in the realist, surreal or abstract modes, this artistic credo would continue throughout his career.

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