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Heat Waves in a Swamp: The Paintings of Charles Burchfield

1 rating: 5.0
A book by Robert Gober

Offering a comprehensive overview of Charles Burchfield s work, this book presents the artist s expressive watercolors and provides a definitive   account of his life and career.      Working almost exclusively in watercolour, … see full wiki

Author: Robert Gober
Genre: Arts & Photography
Publisher: Prestel USA
1 review about Heat Waves in a Swamp: The Paintings of...

A different perspective on the work of this American watercolorist

  • Aug 11, 2010

This book was published on the occasion of an exhibition of Charles Burchfield's works (2009 - 2010) that was curated by the artist, Robert Gober. Even if you've read other books about Burchfield, or have viewed other exhibitions of his watercolors, "Heat Waves in a Swamp" offers a new perspective, with an emphasis on the symbolism in his works. Essays by Cynthia Burlingham, Dave Hickey, Tullis Johnson, and Nancy Weekly are also included, and offer fresh points of view about this artist's life and work (not all of them raves). Charles Burchfield was a synesthete who worked all of his creative life to translate his sensory visions of nature into art.

Other treatments of Burchfield's symbolic content usually focus on his incorporation of vision and sound into his paintings. He used `agitrons' (cartoon-strip squiggles) to indicate movement, `squeans' (asterisks with empty centers) for shafts of sunlight, and `blurgits' (Burchfield describes them as `shrill high pinpoints') for the sounds of insects.

However this book stresses the artist's invention of a shorthand for abstract thoughts and emotions such as 'insanity' and 'morbid brooding' ('emoticons' you could say, although this book doesn't use that term). When I paged through 'Heat Waves' for the first time to look at the pictures, I wondered why so many of the full-page color plates were devoted to Burchfield's doodles. This emphasis was made clear in Nancy Weekly's essay, "Conventions for Abstract Thoughts" which decodes his language of symbols and shows where the symbols occur in his paintings. Here is her partial deconstruction of Burchfield's "Childhood's Garden" (1917) with his motifs in single quotes:

"...Six tiny Johnny-jump-ups with grimacing faces surely represent Charles and his five siblings huddled by their mother--a salmon nasturtium with a crying 'Melancholy/Sadness' mouth...Billowing clouds loom as 'The memory of pleasant things that are gone, perhaps forever' and are punctuated with 'Aimless Abstraction (Hypnotic Intensity).'"

Tullis Johnson follows Weekly's essay with his "A Seemingly Idle Diversion: The Doodles of Charles Burchfield" which continues the theme.

The overall effect of this symbolism shapes this artist's unique, mystical vision of nature--a vision that resonates in harmony with the world that I see outside my window. This book is a very stimulating treatment of his art.

A different perspective on the work of this American watercolorist

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August 11, 2010
The watercolor shown next to the review is Burchfield's "Orion in December"--my favorite.
August 11, 2010
love watercolor so I may check this one out. Thanks!
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