If Plants Could Talk...

Charles Burchfield, Sultry Moon, watercolor, 1959

Burchfield Penney Art Center's Facebook page is worth following. Every morning without fail they post a new painting by Charles Burchfield along with a selection of his writing from his journals. Seeing what they are offering up is one of the high points of my mornings.

Sultry Moon above was their pick this morning. It was new to me and as I looked at it the phrase "If plants could talk..." went through my mind. Burchfield is a very different kind of landscape painter than I am, but one thing I admire in his work is how remarkably animated his forms are. Much of the energy he injects into his paintings is built out of his mastery of brushstrokes. This guy knew what he was doing. 

Just to say two things about his mark-making:

-You never know ahead of time what direction his brushstrokes are going to take as he paints his forms. Always he's surprising us. Unconsciously that makes us want to keep looking.

-He beautifully orchestrates the intensity of his marks. In Sultry Moon, compare the high-contrast staccato brushstrokes in the foreground plants (are they dandelions?) and the trees with the ever-so-softly gradated strokes that populate the empty sky. His judgment about when to hit it hard or when to softly whisper his ideas is just terrific. 


  1. This is, perhaps, why I find Burchfield's works so disquieting to myself. It appears that he is trying to paint the kinetic 'alive' energy of Nature, like radio waves emitting a very high tight energy. To me, this depiction of energy in his works feels jittery--like the energy of someone who is on a caffeine and nicotine high. If it was a sound, it would be like a chipmunk jittering or the ear splitting whine of a dentist's drill.

    In contrast, Peter, your painting style is very alive, too, but by your use of vibrant, saturated color that you apply in broad strokes, bold movement and sharp light contrasts. If it were a sound, the energy you convey in your style would be like the booming thrum of the ocean at Thunder Rock in Maine. A deep, steady, grounding pulsation rather than a high pitched whine.

    I don't know anything about technique in art, and I speak only as someone with a visceral response to what I see and feel when I look at a piece.

  2. Pam, again thank you for your very thoughtful comments (and of course for your much appreciated compliment). I think you describe the implied "sound" of Burchfield's and my art very accurately. Always the most important thing in art is to find somebody's art that moves your and changes how you feel when you look at it. I think it's great that we don't all have exactly the same responses to life or to art. Keeps things interesting.

  3. Nancy Weekly, Burchfield Scholar, Burchfield Penney Art CenterSeptember 18, 2017 at 10:54 AM

    Thanks, as ever, Phil, for your blog about Burchfield's art and journals entries. The flowers in the center foreground are Queen Anne's Lace, and to their right are teasel heads. The songs of tree crickets and cicadas emanate from the trees, as the last light from sunset glistens red and green on the horizon.

    1. Nancy, thanks for letting us know about the plants and critters! It really is quite a painting!


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