Weather and Art: Charles Burchfield at the Montclair Art Museum

The weather was a muse for artist Charles Burchfield (1893-1967) and is the subject of a special exhibition of his work at the Montclair Art Museum in New Jersey.

“Charles E. Burchfield: Weather Event” displays more than forty paintings and sketches of specific atmospheric phenomena as seen by the artist in the Buffalo, NY area during the early part of the 20th century. Co-curated by Dr. Stephen Vermette, a climatologist at SUNY Buffalo and Tullis Johnson, the archive manager at the university’s Burchfield Penney Art Center, the show is a thoughtful blend of art and science.

Grouped by themes, such as the sky, cloudscapes, changing seasons, heat waves, and moon halos, the wall text for each piece highlights the artistic processes involved and explains the meteorology portrayed in the different scenes. Some of the artworks are also accompanied by a phone number that viewers can call on their cell phones to listen to a simulated weather forecast for the specific date and location depicted in the image.

Burchfield was a visionary artist for his time and was given the first solo exhibition ever offered at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City in 1930. He was also an imaginative interpreter of nature. To convey the non-visible aspects of the natural world, he developed a vocabulary of various signs and symbols. These included chevrons in the sky to show wind and undulating lines across the landscape to express heat. He was truly captivated by the workings of the atmosphere and in 1943 said: “To me, the artist, interested chiefly in weather—all weather is beautiful, and full of powerful motion.”

The show is on view at the Montclair Art Museum through January 7, 2018.

“Sunburst”, 1929-31 by Charles Burchfield. Credit: Burchfield Penney Art Center.

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About Melissa Fleming

Melissa Fleming is an environmental communicator working at the intersection of art and science. She is passionate about exploring, learning, and sharing information about the natural world. She has presented her interdisciplinary work in a variety of mediums at venues and conferences around the world.