MG and I went to the Hammer Museum's opening this past Saturday to see the exhibition Heat Waves in a Swamp: The Paintings of Charles Burchfield, curated by artist Robert Gober. I become aware of Charles Burchfield's watercolors when I was teaching a beginning water media painting class at Hastings College around 2001-2002. I had stumbled across his images while I was doing preparation for the class, trying to find some interesting examples of how watercolor could be used in an expressive fashion to depict traditional subject matter-some students were interested in painting representationally, and I was encouraging them to try a variety of approaches.
I was particular inspired by how Burchfield created a very rich, personal vocabulary of marks imbued with emotional and psychological qualities that he applied to his observed subjects -the marks have an abstracted quality that seem to describe vibrations, sounds, energy, and life radiating from the environments he painted. The marks work together to create a fantastical element to his landscapes-they seem spiritualized or feel otherworldly. The Hammer exhibition is quite expansive -many drawings, preliminary studies, and his journals in addition to paintings. There's so much to take in, I know I'll need to go back for a second viewing. The show is up through Jan. 3, 2010 and well worth seeing.