The Mystic Landscapes of Charles Burchfield

Charles Burchfield, Night Scene, 1935

Pair the words "watercolour" and "landscape" and visions of evening classes at the local high school dance in one's head. But in the hands of American artist Charles Burchfield, this staple of the Sunday painter was transformed from the ordinary to the extraordinary.

Charles Burchfield, Orion in December, 1959
Burchfield was born in Ohio in 1893, and graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Art in 1916. He moved to Buffalo, New York in 1921, then finally settled in West Seneca in 1925, living there till his death in 1967. Except for a few years in the twenties when he worked as a designer of wallpaper, Burchfield was a full-time artist and his success can be measured by the many major collections in which he is represented.

Like so many artists working in the first half of the 20th century, Burchfield wished to go beyond surface appearances, instead giving visual form to the essential life force at the heart of all living things.

Charles Burchfield, Arctic Owl and Winter Moon, 1960

Charles Burchfield, Glory of Spring, 1950
Rather than go the abstract route favoured by the European avant-garde, Burchfield conveyed his transcendentalist leanings through a very personal vision of the natural world, an approach not dissimilar to that of fellow North American painters Emily Carr, Lawren Harris, Georgia O'Keeffe and Marsden Hartley.

"An artist must paint not what he sees in nature, but what is there. To do so he must invent symbols, which, if properly used, make his work seem even more real than what is in front of him," said Burchfield.

Looking at Burchfield's remarkable paintings, one feels one's been given a privileged peak at a slice of the world normally hidden from human eyes. The vibrating lines and swirling strokes that energize his fields and forests represent the sounds and spirits of the primeval earth. He also painted some absolutely eerie townscapes that look like the backdrop to a story by H.P. Lovecraft. How cool is that?

Charles Burchfield, Rainy Night, 1918

Check out the Burchfield Penney Art Center at SUNY Buffalo State for more information on this fascinating artist. This wikipedia article is quite good too.