Charles Burchfield, Early Spring Sunlight, watercolor, 1950
Burchfield Penney Art Center, Buffalo, NY
Later in July I'll be returning to the Burchfield Penney Art Center (BPAC) in Buffalo, NY for my second stay as part of my Burchfield Residency at the museum.
I'm well into my fourth decade of painting and I have a different style to my landscapes than Burchfield. But one of my strengths as an artist I feel has always been my willingness to learn from other artists. His work has been speaking to me for many years. What I'm finding is what he's telling me is something other than what I'd anticipated.
One of the first things I did at BPAC was to make a careful oil copy of the left hand section of Burchfield's watercolor Early Spring Sunlight that the museum brought out from their Permanent Collection.
I wanted to make the copy to get some new ideas from of Burchfield's color choices, hoping to add to my usual color mixtures. Doing the copy reminded me how much I love the feel of bare branches disappearing up into the sky. My paintings of the last decade have tended towards solid masses of foliage shaped into clear silhouettes. I was reminded of something I've been missing and want to get back to.
My oil copy of the left section of Charles Burchfield's
watercolor Early Spring Sunlight
The other major impression from my first BPAC visit came more from the hours I spent in the museum's extensive Archives. I poured over numerous pages of his handwritten journals and hundreds of his drawings. Looking through all this you start feeling Burchfield seemed to save everything. To carefully organize one's work and preserve it doesn't happen all by itself. It is a testament to the incredibly high value he placed on his past experiences. I think that's the big lesson I'm getting from Burchfield.
Returning from BPAC with all this in mind I was struck by an earlier painting of mine from a couple of decades ago. I dove into repainting it. I'm very happy with the results.
Philip Koch, High Trees, oil on panel, 28 x 21", 2015
I had intended to do all new work based on the studies I created while in Buffalo. And I will. But Burchfield's message to me was instead to look backward and see if I hadn't been in too much of a hurry to close the book on an earlier chapter of my life.