“All weather is beautiful and full of powerful emotion,” said Charles Burchfield, a brilliant painter who spent much of his life in Western New York.
He embraced weather, waiting so he could capture “the moment of change.” Many of his paintings depict eternal themes — cycles of nature and transitions of seasons and light.
He refers to (and paints) “the rhythm of rain.” He describes autumn as “the dignity of October” and sees in September “the wideness and completeness of Nature.” He writes the word “Nature” with a capital “N.”
At the Burchfield Penney Art Center on Elmwood Avenue on the Buffalo State College campus, several outstanding examples of Burchfield’s reflections on weather are accumulated in the current exhibition, “Charles E. Burchfield: Weather Event” (on view through Feb. 26, 2012). In addition, Burchfield’s doodle-filled journals and diaries hold clues to his mindset as an artist. Various entries on display add to the experience of viewing his art at the museum that bears his name.
I was struck by how Burchfield somehow manges to re-create the dynamic movement of nature. His two-dimensional scenes are multisensory; looking at them, you can feel the biting winter wind or the cool summer breeze, the searing heat of August or the frigid cold of mid-January.
I empathized with a lone figure trudging through high snow banks in a sleet storm–I’ve been there!
Weather comes alive in his paintings–in all its dimensions. He painted the angry fury of weather: the wind and storms and dark forboding skies. Yet he also depicted the peaceful stillness and stark, bare landscapes.
Lessons for Photographers
These regional treasures hold myriad examples for photographers—especially those who live in a weather-driven place where Mother Nature holds an “event” on a regular basis.
The lessons are many, but here are a few I’ve gleaned and hope to put into practice with my camera (weather-permitting, of course!):
- Celebrate weather: enjoy the change of seasons and don’t be afraid to wait out the storm or bundle up with the camera on a cold, snowy day.
- Capture the quality of light and the intriguing colors at dawn, dusk, twilight and sunset. It’s easier to do in the winter, as the sun rises later in the morning and sets in the early evening.
- Capture the shapes and shadows in nature, as in Burchfield’s arching trees in “Spring Silhouette.”
- Try different perspectives: point up to capture interesting cloudscapes; get low, as in Burchfield’s wind-blown asters, sunflowers and fluffy dandelions, painted from the flower’s “point of view.”
- Try to capture the mood and emotion in weather, through light, movement, the “moment of change,” and the transition of seasons. Capture a landscape you love (urban or rural) in each season and in varying weather conditions.
- Incorporate people or animals in your nature scenes.
A TIP: While you’re at the Burchfield-Penney, take in another exhibit “Rapt in Beauty” in the Wendt Gallery space (through Feb. 19, 2012). It’s lovely, depicting local natural and pastoral scenes that offer a peaceful respite.
Also, take in the building itself. Walk around it, view it from across Elmwood Avenue. I never appreciated the stark beauty of the center until I took some time to really observe and photograph it. I realized how it reflects (literally) the nature that Burchfield so loved and painted.
What’s your favorite weather shot? Where were you and role did light play in the image?