"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." Charles Burchfield
The exhibit Heat Waves in a Swamp, currently at the Hammer is the largest collection of Burchfield’s work I’ve ever seen together all in one place.
Like Christmastime the trees are alight. There’s as much going on in the spaces between things; dry brushstrokes, transparent patterns overlapping, and lifting of color used all together to ecstatically animate his subjects, portraying mood and feeling as much as form.
Having not realized Burchfield’s technique of piecing smaller pieces together to make larger works I’ve always visualized them as being smaller, no larger than about 40 x 30”. Many of his paintings are much larger than that. Burchfield had a revelation when he reached his 50’s of revisiting his earlier works and using them as the inspiration and the starting points for his later work and then building on them by adding pieces to the sides, top, and bottom. Details of his process are revealed in the video below.
He made many drawings and took copious notes while figuring out how a painting should come together. Samples of these drawings and the extensive notes are part of this exhibit. Also displayed are numerous doodles, a few samples of his wallpaper work, and many journals. The selections from his journals printed beside various paintings are priceless. In one he describes in great detail everything he’s seeing in a cloudy sky, ultimately saying that it is agonizing to watch, while in another he states that there is too much grandeur in a dandelion seed head to take in.
Heat Waves in a Swamp is on view until January 3, 2010.
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