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Charles Burchfield – January Twilight

27 Jan

“South wind in January; cool and moist – the occasional soft roar of wind in the tree tops; sunlight streaming from out of the white southern horizon, running up the sides of the trees like polished Dutch metal, and lighting up brightly the fences of houses, yearning southward.”

Charles Burchfield, January Twilight, 1962, watercolour

I’m really sick of you – January, can you end already? Can you possibly have less days or even better, never come again? But whilst you are still here, I will use the opportunity to write about this lovely watercolour by Charles Burchfield called “January Twilight” painted in 1962, just five years before the artist’s death in 1967.

Watercolour “January Twilight” shows a motif which we’ve seen often throughout Burchfield’s career; street scene with gloomy Victorian houses, a few trees and perhaps an uninterested passerby. All these watercolours of streetscenes are similar in a way, and still unique and wonderful each in their own right. What differentiates these watercolours is the mood and the weather, in “January Twilight” the weather is wintery; freezing and cold January . The tall and bare tree branches are stretching up towards the sky like the spires of Gothic cathedrals. Burchfield really has a knack of capturing the mood of the moment, they are so many little things that make you truly feel the scene that you are gazing at; the smoke from the chimneys, the snow on the roofs, the bare trees, the color of the sky, everything is so evocative of a winter’s day. Painted nearly entirely in shades of grey and with a few touches of soft yellow, the watercolour is monochromatic yet lively at the same time. Burchfield perfectly captures the pale rays of winter sun suddenly coming from behind the drab houses and illuminating the bare tree branches, wet pavements and piles of snow. I love how Gothic-looking his wooden Victorian houses always appear, almost as if they were real persons, full of dark secrets and tales to tell. One can also notice how much more free, loose and playful his style had become in his later years, less attention is paid to precision and details, and more on capturing the mood. I love the snake-like curves drawn here and there in the snow and I love the touches of yellow, as subtle as they are. One can really get lost in all the details of Burchfield’s dream-likes scenes.

Burchfield’s watercolours, whether they were painted early in his career in the late 1910s or 1920s or near the end of his life in the 1960s, are all characterised by this sense of wonder for the world around him. Burchfield grew up in a small rural town of Salem, Ohio, which offered little diversities and amusement, and in such circumstances one really has to find the beauty in everyday things because a small town doesn’t offer an array of things to escape the boredom from in the way a big city does. In that aspect, a small town can be fruitful for one’s imagination, time passes slower and one pays attention to little things, one has time to stop and smell the roses. I really see this in Burchfield’s art.

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