Patterns are everywhere. They exist in nature through seasons and the cycles of weather they bring. They exist in the natural forms of landscapes and plants and in light emanating from the sun and reflected from the moon at night. They exist in the spaces between things and the shadows formed when light shines through. Patterns are at the core of Charles Burchfield’s art. Recalling his youth, in the 1960s, he wrote about his experience at the Cleveland School of art in 1915:
Henry Keller once said to me after looking at some of my early sketches that my inability to see form, or virtually complete concentration on two dimensional pattern, amounted almost to genius – at the time I did not ignore form consciously; I hardly knew it existed, so enamored was I with the excitement of broad pattern.
Designs from his time at the school are dominated by patterns. The same year, he took on the ambitious goal of creating All-Day Sketches. These quickly executed studies record changing weather patterns over an entire day, or in some cases an entire season. They compress temporal events into one moment. The following year he wrote in his journal about the power of seasonal change saying, “I wonder if I will even be able to paint spring – At this season, my mind wanders in all directions.” A few days later he wrote:
A cold new day – fine for walking, tho I stayed indoors. Fine rain at times – trees made patterns against the sky – the robins sang as boldly at sunset time –
Sketches from this period would inspire many of the paintings made over the next few years, and others painted decades later. They would also inform a dynamic relationship with nature and a deep understanding of its cycles and systems. He understood the phases of the moon and the haloes that form when its light passes through thin layers of clouds and he understood the patterns of trees, and how their silhouettes could help identify them.
Charles E. Burchfield: Patterns Against the Sky brings together patterns employed in Burchfield’s art from the collection and archives of the Burchfield Penney Art Center along with three loans from a private collections. It focuses on work created in the early part of his career, but also includes later iterations of some of the patterns seen in earlier work. These examples represent only a small sampling of the ways that he used his knowledge and love of nature to create a visual language.
This exhibition is presented with support from the Charles E. Burchfield Foundation, with additional support from Mr. John and Mrs. Candace Darby.