Friday, March 16, 2012

Charles Burchfield, Edward Hopper's Rare Friend


Edward Hopper was friends with few other artists and rarely spoke highly of their work. An exception was Charles Burchfield (American 1893-1967, ironically the same year Hopper died).  Wrote Hopper "The work of Charles Burchfield is most decidedly founded, not on art, but on life, and life that he knows and loves best." It is impressive that someone like Hopper, whose work was in some ways so different than Burchfield's, would express such enthusiasm for his friend's watercolors. 

What Hopper was getting at was that Burchfield placed extraordinary value on his direct experience. And looking closely at Burchfield's watercolors you can share in much of what the man felt. I always tell my students that our job as artists is to notice the things of value that everyone else has overlooked. Nobody fits that description better than Burchfield.

His is an art that's about the gesture of grasses stirred by the breeze, the glare of sunlight, and even the noises made by insects. Somehow he found a way to make these things feel powerful and poetic. In lesser hands they would have seemed like corny illustrations. 




Burchfield lived with his widowed mother in the small town of Salem, Ohio. Back in 1995 I had a solo show at the branch museum there run by the Butler Institute of American Art. The Butler's branch was in an old bank and was very lovely- they paired my show with a show of Raphael Soyer etchings, which I felt was a real honor for me. Apparently Butler's Salem Branch roof later developed leaks and Butler had to close it (would some zillionaire reader of my blog please give the Butler a big donation for repairs so they can re-open it). While I was staying there I visited the old Burchfield home where the artist lived from age 5 - 28 and where many of his finest works were executed. 

A group of locals was trying to raise the money to preserve the artist's old house but hadn't completed their goal yet when I was visiting. I went anyway and walked around the grounds. Peeking in the front window I could see the place was undergoing repairs. The old wallpaper had been stripped off the plaster walls, and  I kid you not, scrawled in a child's handwriting on the plaster were the words "Charlie was here." Seems like our world famous Burchfield was very much a normal little kid at one time- perhaps his genius was in maintaining a link to that side of himself as he slid into adulthood.

It's now called the Burchfield Homestead and is open part time to the public. The Burchfield Homestead Society has a great feature on their website:  an interactive floor plan of Burchfield's house showing some of the watercolors he did from different rooms. It's marvelous-http://www.burchfieldhomestead.com 


It's a place I'm eager to visit once again.





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