Several months ago Scott Propeack, the Associate Director and Chief Curator of the Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo, New York invited me to be the second Artist in Residence at the Art Center for the next year. I'm just returned from the first of what will be a half dozen visits to the museum between now and summer of 2016.
In my opinion, Charles Burchfield is one of the best painters of the 20th century. Burchfield has been one of the main influences on my own paintings of the natural world. I'm honored to be given this opportunity by the Burchfield Penney Art Center.
As an artist I've a keen awareness that none of us is alone in our studios- rather through our work we're engaging in a conversation with key artists who have gone before us. Painting after all is a language. By studying those who spoke it exceptionally well, I know I can learn to tell my own story better. Burchfield's work is different in many ways from mine, yet I feel strongly the two of us are chewing on the same bone.
BPAC is something of a unique museum. In addition to having by far the largest collection of artwork by the internationally known watercolorist Burchfield, it also has a mission of exhibiting, documenting, and collecting the art of Western New York State.
I was born and grew up in nearby Rochester where my parents had build a home right on the shore of Lake Ontario. That chapter of my life, spent in the hilly and heavily forested lake shore left an indelible impact on my imagination. I didn't take up art until I left for college in Ohio. Ironically until starting the Burchfield Residency last week I'd never painted from the landscape that had made such a big impression on me as a youth.
In addition to painting on location in some of the same parts of the landscape where Burchfield worked, I'll be studying some of the thousands of examples of Burchfield's work in the museum's Permanent Collection and in its exhibitions (like the delightful current show, A Resounding Roar, that traces the influence of sound on Burchfield's painting, organized by BPAC's Curator and Manager of Archives, Tullis Johnson).
I will spend time reading from Burchfield's voluminous personal journals and get to know first hand Burchfield's much less known work in the medium of drawing.
A conte on newsprint drawing by Burchfield from the
Burchfield Penney's Permanent Collection
Despite a threatening monsoon the evening I arrived (which I realized Burchfield would have loved) the weather cooperated beautifully. I worked out on location five days in a row and got a whole number of drawings and paintings started. Tullis Johnson had urged me to drive south from the city to Chestnut Ridge Park that sits on a glacial line of hills. In addition to miles of trails through the woods it afforded a striking panorama looking north to Lake Erie. I was captivated and did four different views of it.
Here I am starting to work on the above drawing and painting.
One of my key goals was to soak up the special character of the Northern landscape that had fired up Burchfield's visual imagination. As well I'm intrigued with the idea of studying Burchfield's painting methods more closely, especially with an eye towards how he used his patterns of dark and light and his personal color sense. I'll have more to say about this in my next blog post.
While at the museum I was able to use their first floor classroom as a painting studio for five days. Here is a photo above I took at the end of my fifth day of working. I think you can tell by the number of pieces I produced I was excited to be starting.
At the end of my first week of the Residency my head was full of new ideas and I am charged up with new energy. I'll have a lot to chew on in my next weeks back in my Baltimore studio.
I want to extend a heartfelt thank you to the staff of the museum for being so generous with their time and sharing with me their special insights into the work of one of America's best painters. I have a feeling this next year of working at the Burchfield Penney will be one of the most valuable of my life as an artist.