Burchfield makes of watercolor -- normally a pastoral medium -- a stage for the tragedies of nature. His trees are vital, scary, independent of humans (as I guess he might have been as well). They have their own agendas.
This little back yard is so fraught with danger and with life! Look at the little buzzy verticals above the bush: I think they represent insect songs.
I can't find images of most of the pictures I saw. One was a swamp in the afternoon (he loved swamps, apparently). What watercolorist would position himself IN A SWAMP, in the AFTERNOON, looking INTO the sun! but here was the sun, glowing, its super-nuclear fires evident in the normally-placid medium of watercolor: the medium that in Burchfield's hands, vibrates with fear, anger, awareness...
One particularly bizarre piece: the front of a house stands alone, a movie-facade, while builders take down everything behind it. It is ONLY the front, nothing else.
He wrote about one piece: "Astonishment and wonder are the keynotes of hte picture -- Eliminate all else." What a mantra for an artist to live by!
This is an Orion picture -- December Ohio sky. Aren't these stars and these trees astonishing and wonderful???
I think of the great American poet Theodore Roethke -- like Burchfield, he grew up in the midwest (Michigan) -- and knew the connections of nature's insistence and the soul's obsessions. His father ran a greenhouse -- who better to know of how nature's pressures are to grow, and grow, and grow?
Here's Roethke's famous and wonderful poem about the roots in a root cellar. I think I knew these roots when I was 13 years old, too.
Root Cellar by Theodore RoethkeNothing would sleep in that cellar, dank as a ditch,
Bulbs broke out of boxes hunting for chinks in the dark,
Shoots dangled and drooped,
Lolling obscenely from mildewed crates,
Hung down long yellow evil necks, like tropical snakes.
And what a congress of stinks!
Roots ripe as old bait,
Pulpy stems, rank, silo-rich,
Leaf-mold, manure, lime, piled against slippery planks.
Nothing would give up life:
Even the dirt kept breathing a small breath.