Insect Chorus (1917), above. Sultry Moon, below
I first heard of the American watercolor painter Charles Burchfield (1893-1967) in an art history class at the University of Texas. I loved my professor (I fondly remember her announcing in a previous class, "Now I must show you Greuze—I hate Greuze." What she did like were the early 20th century American painters such as Arthur Dove, Charles Sheeler, Stuart Davis, Marsden Hartley, Milton Avery, John Marin, and Charles Burchfield who were all on the early path to abstraction.
I immediately respond to Burchfield primarily because of his interest in nature, plants and the seasons. But I also love the transcendental and somewhat wacky eccentricity he gives his work. Objects are recognizable but they have seem to be haloed with a mysterious glowing light that seems not always to come from the sun but from the things themselves. For this reason, Burchfield has been called everything from pantheistic to just plain kooky—both admirable traits in my book. Oh, and he was from Ohio like so many other creative people.
Like his contemporary Arthur Dove, he was also interested in the medical condition known as synesthesia, particularly the visual representation of sound as in the painting "Insect Chorus," above.
From a 1985 review from the New York Times of a retrospective of his Burchfield's work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art:
"All the essential elements of Burchfield's work, including his conviction and his acute sensitivity to the world around him, were evident from the beginning. His preferred medium was always watercolors. In the tradition of artists like Odilon Redon, Edvard Munch, Vincent van Gogh and Albert Pinkham Ryder, he drew and painted flowers, birds, clouds and trees not as he saw them but as he felt them, wildly, expressively, with his own sense of color and scale. Though the world around him was just as animate as Ryder's and van Gogh's, however, it was never alien, as theirs could be. From the beginning, almost every tree and cloud in a Burchfield painting seems to hear the same rhythm, to fall under the same mood."
Click photos to enlarge
Charles Burchfield (above and below)
It's easy to see that some of his work bordered on illustration. He designed wallpaper like this moody sample above to support his family.
The Promise of Spring (1956)