Heat Waves in a Swamp
August 5, 2010 1:43 PM   Subscribe

Heat Waves in a Swamp: The Paintings of Charles Burchfield. "Burchfield’s primary subject was landscape, often focusing on his immediate surroundings: his garden, the views from his windows, snow turning to slush, the sounds of insects and bells and vibrating telephone lines, deep ravines, sudden atmospheric changes, the experience of entering a forest at dusk, to name but a few. He often imbued these subjects with highly expressionistic light, creating at times a clear-eyed depiction of the world and, at other times, a unique mystical and visionary experience of nature." I recommend the slide show in the first link as the best introduction. More audio slide shows from Peter Schjeldahl here.
posted by puny human (8 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Thank you for posting this.
posted by jon1270 at 1:55 PM on August 5, 2010

I foollishly preferred the Depression-era realist Burchfield when I was younger. But as I grew older, and came to more intensely experience the Northeast Ohio, Pennsylvania, Western New York landscape that was his inspiration, I learned to understand and appreciate the more abstract and symbolic works even more.

Especially as it would often occur that I would sometimes stop stock still in an Ohio wood in Summer, or mid-Winter, or especially snowmelt Spring, and hear the ambient sounds -- the trill of cicadas, the hum of the wind through the treetops, the trickle of a stream beneath the melting snow -- and it would spontaneously occur to me, I'm in a late Burchfield! These works that seem so screwy and naive, are in fact super-realistic in their own way.

His imagery might have inspired Dylan's "foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves, the haunted, frightened trees ... far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow."
posted by Faze at 2:04 PM on August 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

Charles Burchfield is one of my favorite painters ever and it's so rare you hear anything about him. He's like a dark mix of Van Gogh and Hopper. I love his ability to show the spookiness in ordinary Americana...it's something you see a lot of in contemporary art and photography but it must have seemed bizarre to people at the time he was painting. Awesome post.
posted by Jess the Mess at 2:09 PM on August 5, 2010

Thanks for this. It looks like I'll be adding a trip to Buffalo's Burchfield Penney Art Center to my upcoming visit to the Albright-Knox Gallery.
posted by rocket88 at 2:14 PM on August 5, 2010

'Mystical Realism,' from the NYtimes article, is a terrible description of this! It's heavily stylized in a 60s fashion with impressionistic overtones.

Oh, and these are absolutely wonderful. Thank you for sharing!
posted by es_de_bah at 2:28 PM on August 5, 2010

Anyone know of a good online source for his prints?
posted by christopherious at 3:26 PM on August 5, 2010

Those are cool paintings. I never heard of this person. Thank you for posting this.
posted by marxchivist at 4:05 PM on August 5, 2010

"He's like a dark mix of Van Gogh and Hopper'

I can see that Jess the Mess. There is a touch of Thomas Hart Benton and Albert Pinkham Ryder in the mix too.
posted by puny human at 4:31 PM on August 5, 2010

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