Charles E. Burchfield’s journals and record album collection reveal the monumental significance that music, as well as sounds from nature and industry, had on his aesthetic. Music often conjured fantastic visions and evocative memories. The audiophile was astutely attuned to his surroundings, which led him to draw and paint in visual patterns what he heard from cascading ravine waterfalls, fierce blizzard winds, insect cadences, bird songs, vibrating telegraph wires, and train whistles—to name just a few. Research has revealed the strong possibility that Burchfield was synesthetic; that is, he simultaneously saw visual patterns and colors when he heard sounds. Burchfield’s special ability to connect sight and sound imbues his art with surreal qualities that invite viewers to share his multi-sensory experiences.
As his career developed, Burchfield strove to achieve in his grand watercolor paintings the same heroic romanticism that he heard in music, particularly that of Ludwig von Beethoven and Jean Sibelius. As early as 1930, he wrote: “I have just received the Second Symphony of Sibelius ― Its power & beauty overwhelms me ― what a magnificent genius is Sibelius ― All the torture of barrenness and indecision that this autumn assailed me are dissolved in this elemental music ― pictures and ideas pour in upon me ― my joy is almost too great to be borne.” Burchfield’s landscapes also reveal his fascination with a symbolic representation of a pure, hauntingly beautiful, and awe-inspiring North woods. “North is an arbitrary term,” he wrote late in life, “It is the Pole that my imagination yearns for —” Mystic North includes artworks by Burchfield that illustrate his evolving concept of winter’s power and beauty, an idealized northland, as well as audio-cryptograms—the motifs he devised to make sound visible. Works from the Burchfield Penney Art Center’s collection and archives are featured, including Snow Patterns—on view for the first time since its acquisition this spring.
Because the concept of “North” as a mystical, metaphorical, and inspirational place has intrigued artists for centuries, the exhibition includes works by two other artists for comparison. They are Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865-1931), who was Sibelius’ friend, painted his portrait, and is considered by many to be Finland’s most famous artist; and Eric Aho (born 1966), an American of Finnish descent and Burchfield admirer who traveled to his ancestral country to paint expressive landscapes.
Mystic North is presented in conjunction with “FinnFest USA 2015,” an annual national festival of Finnish and Finnish-American culture. This year Buffalo, New York is the center of the celebration, inspired by the international celebration of the 150th Jubilee year of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius and the 75th anniversary of Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's landmark home, Kleinhans Music Hall, designed by Finnish architects Eliel and Eero Saarinen. “Finn Fest USA 2015” includes concerts and programs, including tours of the Burchfield exhibition, to acknowledge the creativity and achievements of Sibelius as seen through the artist’s imagination.
The Burchfield Penney Art Center and BPO have collaborated on Burchfield and music exhibitions and concerts in the past. During related pre-concert programs, the audience was tantalized with insights about how the music and artwork interconnected. In 1984, Morton Gould conducted his composition “Burchfield Gallery” which was inspired by Burchfield’s paintings that were exhibited on stage and in the museum. Gould’s piece was performed again in 1995 and 2004, with music that inspired Burchfield. The concerts featured major works by Jean Sibelius: “Symphony No. 5 in E flat Major, op. 82” in 1995 and “Symphony No. 2 in D Major” in 2004. In connection with the 2004 Tribute to Charles Burchfield , Conductor JoAnn Falletta and the BPO recorded the Gould and Sibelius works for release on CD, with Burchfield’s painting December Light as the cover image and liner notes written by BPAC’s Nancy Weekly. “Finn Fest USA 2015” again brings together the imaginative worlds of Sibelius and Burchfield for audiences to hear and see their personal, commanding visions of North.
This exhibition is presented in collaboration with Finn Fest USA 2015 from October 9-11 in and around Buffalo, NY. Learn more at https://www.facebook.com/events/1495908427353652/