There is art you can hang on the wall, and then there is art that is the wall. Such was the case with American painter Charles Burchfield (1893 – 1967) who took his visionary artistic skills to the wall. He moved from Ohio to Buffalo in 1921 to take a job as a designer for M. H. Birge & Sons Company. Known for his elemental watercolors of landscapes and seasons, Burchfield’s wallpapers portrayed sunflowers, robins, crocuses, and palms. His wallpapers were filled with nature motifs of flora and fauna.
Burchfield was eventually made head of design department. With this position, he moved from designing to supervising. Tired of short deadlines and administrative pressure, he grew increasingly discontent with his job. In 1929, the Frank K. M. Rehn Galleries in New York City began representing Burchfield, allowing the artist to resign from his job as a designer to paint full-time.
His wallpapers are not unlike his paintings. Burchfield worked extremely dry with his watercolors. So much so that he could work on an easel. This style resulted in immense control and stronger colors that is evident in the wallpaper that he designed. One thing I find missing is the translucency of watercolors. Printing in the 20s could produce layering and some variances in color but the brush strokes and depth is lost.
This loss of visual evidence of his process is what separates his paintings and his wallpaper. It made me wonder if the same goes for contemporary wallpaper. Grant it, highly floral wallpaper has given way to bold geometric designs and photorealistic scenes, but I stumble on the wallpaper designs of Black Crow Studios.
Black Crow Studios specialize in wallpaper that pushes the boundaries. Their wallpaper becomes a work of art. I was particularly drawn to their Watercolor Collection. Originals are painted by watercolor artist Karla Davidson; these are photographed to create wallpaper. The result is a large, abstract watercolor surface. They range from subtle, solid colors to vibrant, bright abstracts.
What I love is the preservation of her brushstrokes and the translucent quality of the media. Today, you can photograph anything and print it large; with those possibilities could Burchfield’s wallpaper look more like his watercolor paintings? The nature theme still evident but you could now recreate the quality of the paint, see every paint stroke and the translucency of watercolor paintings. It transforms wallpaper to true art and honors an artist’s process and medium. But this comes from someone who loves seeing an artist’s brushstrokes. So I ask you, would you like to see wallpaper that is photorealistic and if so, what paintings would you like to see as wallpaper?
Brittany Thrun is the artist and blogger behind A Fine Tangle and art teacher at St. Leo the Great School. She also teaches freelance art classes at Monkey See…Monkey Do Bookstore. She earned her undergraduate degree from Buffalo State and is currently in their Art Education graduate program.