Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Charles Burchfield Archives- Unexpected Influences

Philip Koch, Great Dunes II, oil on canvas, 36 x 72", 1985
A painting I made from a smaller plein air oil painted on location
just outside Provincetown, MA.

An unexpected benefit of being the Artist in Residence at the Burchfield Penney Art Center this year was spending time going through the Center's extensive Burchfield Archives. Charles Burchfield valued all his work and saved almost everything. Burchfield Penney has each of the 25,000 pieces of his work and his writing assigned a catalogue number and archivally stored. 

They gave me white cotton gloves and more boxes of his drawings than I could ever work through. Gingerly lifting each drawing out of its box I felt like Burchfield was sitting right next to me. For someone who wants to get beneath the surface of how a creative mind like Burchfield's worked, it was dream. 

 Philip Koch, State Road, oil on paper mounted to panel,
19 x 28 1/2",  circa 1989. I painted this on location
on the Eastern Shore of Marland.

Examinging hundreds of Burchfield's preparatory drawings gave me a more complete picture of how carefully and strategically he worked up his compositions. What I saw in the Archives proved to me it's possible to be both spontaneous and thoughtful as a painter.

The experience lit a fire under me to get images of my earlier work organized and to write notes about each of the paintings. Undertaking this made me take a long second look at paintings I haven't given as much thought as they deserve. 

Philip Koch, Third Story, oil on camas, 42 x 63", 1985. This was
the most creepy house near my Baltimore studio. Wouldn't want 
to spend the night in it, but I had to paint it. Its builders created
 an elegant gothic sculpture. Sadly it was torn down
after I painted it.

When I first stared with landscape painting I did almost all my work in oils outdoors in front of the source. Eventually I switched methods, opting to work in only black and white charcoal drawing outdoors and inventing color when I worked from the drawings in oil back in my studio. 

Getting to know my earlier oils better inspired me to start painting in oils outdoors again. In the last two weeks for for example I worked in oils outdoors in both Buffalo and Maine. I'm finding that I have more creative freedom with color after all that experience painting from my black and white drawings. I am thinking in color more clearly. Couldn't be more pleased with where things are going.

Philip Koch, Spring Front Yard, oil on canvas, 45 x 60", 1985.
While I liked this white house it seemed too formal viewed 
straight on. Seen from the neighboring yard the wild shapes of this 
screen of trees changed the feeling completely. Sometimes an 
oblique view tells us more.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Painting in Buffalo and Bar Harbor


I am just returned from two back-to-back painting trips in just a little over two weeks. First I flew to Buffalo, NY on my 7th trip for my being the Artist in Residence at the Burchfield Penney Art Center. No sooner had I returned to Baltimore than my wife Alice and I flew up to Maine for a week in Bar Harbor. Only last night was I able to unpack my suitcase and lay out the oil paintings I've started on my studio floor. As you can see, I kept busy. The upper right and lower right oils are from Buffalo and the rest are Maine paintings. I will be going back into each oil to finish it back in my studio.

The Burchfield Residency has been an amazing experience and I've written about it many times on this blog over the last period. Bar Harbor on Mount Desert Island has been a personally meaningful painting destination for me as Alice and I honeymooned there many years ago and fell in love with the place.

Here's a selection of photos from the Maine trip. I have some pressing painting work to take care of so I'll just post the photos without much commentary. 

Eagle Lake from Cadillac Mt.

Above and below are photos of me set up on Cadillac Mountain to paint.

Mt. Desert Island has wonderful glades of white birches. So delicately beautiful. As you can see I am not exactly suffering on this trip.

Starting to pack up wet oil paintings for the flight home. The weather all week in Maine was perfect for painting. Buffalo provided more of a challenge in that department so I wasn't able to get as much accomplished there. Still, I now have lots of new ideas to work on.

My wife Alice posing in front of Mt. Desert's distinctive little mountains called The Bubbles.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Looking Back / The Burchfield Archives

A selection of the original backing boards on the Charles Burchfield
work that entered BPAC's Permanent Collection

None of us live our lives in isolation, even if we sometimes might want to. We carry with us the influences big and small of everyone we'd known, of everywhere we've lived. It's the same for artists.

As a landscape painter I have worked all over the country, but always in the back of my mind is a palpable memory of the Western New York landscape I grew up in. Charles Burchfield grew up in Northeast Ohio and moved to Buffalo, NY to take a job as a wallpaper designer. Despite becoming a nationally renowned artist he consciously made the decision to stay in Buffalo as the roots he had sunk there nourished his creativity. Naturally this is someone I wanted to know more about.

Over the last year as the Burchfield Penney Art Center's Artist in Residence I've made seven trips to study the legacy of Charles Burchfield. Last week found me once again in Buffalo, NY painting at BPAC and in the fields on the outskirts of Buffalo in an area where Burchfield himself often painted.

Close up of the exhibition stickers on one of the backing boards
that used to be on the museum's framed pieces.

In addition to having the largest collection of Charles Burchfield's work, BPAC has an exhaustive archive of the artist's writings, notes, sketches, doodles and memorabilia. Heather Gring, the museum's Archivist organized some of their holdings into the exhibition Finding Aid: Making Sense of the Charles E. Burchfield Archives (through June 19, 2016).

A giant wall-mounted collage of Burchfield's original backing boards that have been removed from the original frames of works on paper greets you when you enter the exhibiton's first gallery. They have all been replaced by more archival materials to preserve the work. Facing them on the opposite wall are some of the drawings that accompanied the boards in the opening display.

Burchfield's Barracks and Tree, India ink and graphite, 1918
An early drawing he made while in the army.


Gentle Snow Fall,  graphite, 1920

I did a double take when I came across this drawing. In my very first studio art class my Freshman year at Oberlin College I made a drawing of the very same plaster cast of a cat. Perhaps this is something Burchfield worked on when he was a student at the Cleveland School of Art.

Here are the original folio cases Buchfiedl made to hold thematically 
related drawings together. They've been replaced by archival folders.

A close up of one of the Burchfield's in the show.
Spider and Grasshoppers,  1948. Isn't this the 
prettiest spider ever!

A sample of one of Burchfield's wallpaper designs.

The exhibition features a giant photo of a group of the artists that exhibited with Burchfield (back row far right) at the Rehn Gallery in New York. His friend and fellow artist Edward Hopper is in the back row at the far left.

Most photographs of Burchfield show him as seriously 
focused. Here's a family photo taken by his granddaughter 
Peggy Richter Haug where he mugs for the camera. The family 
has just eaten together at a Howard Johnsons. His wife Bertha
is getting into their car.

Easter Morning in the Woods watercolor, 1947 - 1964. Burchfield
returned to this earlier painting and cut it in half. This is the right hand
half of it. He intended to add a complementing section on the left side 
but never got to complete it.

Few artists have left us with as much documentation and commentary on their work as Charles Burchfield. Any artist who has wondered about the fate their life's work once they are gone will find the careful archiving of Burchfield's legacy on display here genuinely heartwarming. This is what we would all hope for. 

I had a planning meeting with Scott Propeack, the museum's Chief Curator, for an upcoming major exhibition of my own paintings at BPAC. It sounds exciting and I will be sharing details as we finalize our dates and plans. I am confident it will be an impressive exhibition.

On this visit to Buffalo I spent most of my time working in oil paint. I used part of the museum's Classroom as a temporary studio.

I spent most of my time this week southeast of the city in a rural field in East Aurora. Here's a photo of my work in progress of a split rail fence that I took just before packing up my paints and brushes to head home.