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Saturday, 18 September 2010

Charles Burchfield: Realism


The Hobo: Charles Burchfield, 1931 (Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.)

The smashed weirdness of the raving cadenzas of God

Burchfield_East Wind_590x270

Two Ravines: Charles Burchfield, 1934-1943 (Hunter Museum of Modern Art, Chattanooga, Tennessee)

Takes over all of a sudden

......................................Dawn: Charles Burchfield, 1926 (Whitney Museum of American Art)

In our time. It speaks through the voices of talk show moderators.

December Twilight: Charles Burchfield, 1932-1938 (Wichita Museum of Art)

It tells us in a ringing anthem, like heavenly hosts uplifted,

March Wind, 1926 (Cleveland Museum of Art)

That the rhapsody of the pastoral is out to lunch.

74.7.37; Burchfield, Charles E.; Rock Creek Bank, 1932

Rock Creek Bank: Charles Burchfield, 1932 (Charles E. Burchfield Foundation/Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh)

We can take it from there.

Black Iron
: Charles Burchfield, 1935 (private collection)

We can take it to Easy Street.

The Black Barn

The Black Barn: Charles Burchfield, 1930 (Indianapolis Museum of Art)

But when things get tough on Easy Street

Blackbirds in the Snow

Blackbirds in the Snow: Charles Burchfield, 1941-1945 (Walker Museum of Art, Minneapolis)

What then? Is it time for realism?

Winter, East Liverpool
: Charles Burchfield, 1927 (Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo)

And who are these guys on the bus


Freight Cars under a Bridge
: Charles Burchfield, 1933 (Detroit Institute of Arts)

Who glide in golden hats past us

Pyramid of Fire: Charles Burchfield, 1929 (Burchfield-Penney Art Center, Buffalo State College, Buffalo, New York)

On their way to Kansas City?

End of the Day: Charles Burchfield, 1938 (Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art)

Realism: Tom Clark, 1975


Anonymous said...

I had forgotten until today how very beautiful Burchfield’s work was, how individual and how great. Seeing it whipped up into your poem from the first line – “The smashed weirdness of the raving cadenzas of God” – is very powerful. I love the line not because it’s irreligious or religious, but because it suggests the sort of tragic-comic chaos that seems to reign now and it folds into the Burchfields’ energy and predominant darkness.

It may be a vulgar question, but did you have any particular talk show moderators in mind when you wrote this? I ask this as a lifelong tv person because I’m interested in what specifically you might have been thinking of in 1975 (during the Ford administration) and also because I think the poem describes very well things that are going on today.

I’m extremely and daily disturbed by the disconnected (but garrulous and noisy) relationship among our ubiquitous television talk show moderators, the pundits they moderate, and the subjects they discuss and describe. Watching wealthy bylined talking heads on television pontificating in denatured, abstract terms about the plight, circumstances and presumed psychology of the unemployed and underemployed is truly sickening.

Although I hesitate to get political about this, on television, at least, this emanates largely from the left and paints a sad and, for me, hopeless picture of the totally out of touch lecturing those who they never meet, but clearly regard as just not smart enough to “get it” the way they themselves say they do. Any time is generally a good time for Realism, i.e., honest and truthful encounters with the world and other people, creatures and things, and always a bad time for resort and retreat into dishonest pseudo-excuses given public relations names like “communications problem” and “losing the narrative”.

I would like to know who the guys on the bus who glide in golden hats are. I think the Burchfield Freight Cars Under The Bridge is my new favorite painting.

TC said...


You've captured the motive of this post very well:

"...the sort of tragic-comic chaos that seems to reign now and it folds into the Burchfields’ energy and predominant darkness."

Somebody once described Burchfield as Hopper on a rainy day. Well, our roof is still in tatters, and it's raining, so it seems I am operating, if not under divine guidance and protection, at least under the auspice of an approximate inclement-season-topical-relevance-protection, in my choice of artists.

I had no intent to insult God or religion in that first line, the reverse in fact, though I don't suppose that the line would exactly qualify as respectful tribute (?). God, in the poem, is not being quarreled with, or held responsible, at any rate. In my humble view, in case anyone cares (?), God or gods can only do so much, it is their human adherents who are the problem.

Heaven knows (there I go again...) who the talk show moderators in this 1975 poem might have been. Thank God (and here He comes, yet again...) for memory failure.

But the one thing I do know is that things got tough on Easy Street, some time back, and lately it looks, from here, a lot more like Desolation Row.

The ongoing static debates over public policy translate for me into white noise, period. I have a hard time getting around these days, and banging along the grim streets with my senior citizen's cane, I have been trained by circumstance (last month's awful dog attack only the most recent) to cower and flinch. I have a tiny old radio which fills my brain, as I hobble along, with continuous nonsense, sometimes of the sort you describe. I do not intentionally tune in to talkshows, but now and then, as I fiddle ineptly with the tuner, one pops up... and these auditions I find tremendously depressing.

Hereabouts there is the strong presence of Michael Savage (who seems to be be positioned on the right these days, awaiting further developments). If there are talkshow hosts with other sorts of views, I never hear them.

From what I am able to make of it, then, the chorus seems pretty much unanimous: the steady reviling of Obama, illegal immigrants, welfare, etc... To my ancient ears it all comes across as just garden variety oldtime American xenophobic ignoramus folderol rearing its ugly head.

I hadn't heard of Glenn Beck until a while back I worked up a post on Diplodocus (!) and a comment wag suggested that the pictures looked like they came from a Glenn Beck rally. I had to look the guy up.

I didn't know Rush Limbaugh was still breathing until I learned the other day that a crony of his (who appears to look a bit like Yosemite Sam) wanted to set fire to the Koran. Now there's an idea that would have done Father Coughlin proud. Though I don't suppose Father Coughlin knew the difference between the Koran and corn on the cob.

TC said...

...Well, never let it be said that I would have the good sense to let a middle-of-the-night meaningless self-assigned research opportunity go to waste.

Trying to find out who these new eminences of punditry are, I have discovered this piece, "Righties Lead All Star Talk Team," from the NY Daily News:

"To no one's surprise, the top dogs in talk radio remain a chorus of Barack Obama critics led by Rush Limbaugh.

"Limbaugh is No. 1, as usual, on the annual "Heavy Hundred" list of influential hosts just published by the trade magazine Talkers.

"Sean Hannity, ranked No. 2, commented on the eve of the 2008 election that while he felt John McCain would be a better President, an Obama presidency would be a bonanza for talk radio.

"He's been proven right, as the conservatives who dominate the major talk radio airwaves have scored solid ratings by teeing off on all things Obama.

"No. 3 and 4 talkers Glenn Beck and Michael Savage also have little use for Obama, nor do No. 6 Laura Ingraham, No. 8 Mark Levin or No. 9 Lou Dobbs.

"Even the two advice talkers in the top 10 - Dr. Laura Schlessinger at No. 5 and Dave Ramsey at No. 7 - don't care much for Obama's policies..."

Somehow the list does not tempt me to seek out those of the All Stars whom I have missed.

Until somebody decides to renew the Federal Emergency Relief Act, I'm staying tuned out, on the pedestrian lane to the crematorium.

On the other hand, yes, Freight Cars Under a Bridge! Pure genius.

Anonymous said...

“The ongoing static debates over public policy translate for me into white noise, period”. I think that sums things up perfectly.

During my senior year in high school, I seemed to wake up to Desolation Row nearly every morning on the radio. WNEW-FM NY had a DJ, Pete Fornatale, who was stuck on it as a morning song. It was actually pretty nice to hear then – quiet, thoughtful and it set up an appropriately contrary attitude to take into the school day.

The ongoing static debate pretty much skews: a) Television – Left (with Fox News being a notable exception) and b) Radio – Right (probably with a few local programming exceptions now that Air America no longer broadcasts). Reviling of Obama on the right concentrates mainly on unemployment statistics, excessive government spending and, soon coming to a theater near you, the recently announced spike in the national poverty level. I’m sure that if things were rosy, Obama would be reviled for other reasons, but especially in view of the upcoming elections, these are the current areas of concentration.

I read that Rush Limbaugh (who is indeed alive; Elton John recently played at his wedding!) and Rev. Terry Jones were high school classmates, but I’m not sure any of us should be held responsible for what our classmates get up to in later life (unless we’re actual accomplices, aiders or abettors). A college classmate of mine (who I didn’t know at all) apparently is credited with coining the awful business buzzword expression “best practices”. I haven’t come up with an appropriate punishment for that yet, but I’m working on it. Another classmate (who is still a friend) is the “father of tabbed browsing”, which I think is definitely ok. They were my two most successful classmates. Like most of the rest of us, I’m just a cog looking for a wheel to connect with.

“Hopper on a rainy day”. That’s very clever.

doowman said...

Oddly enough my wife and I passed the The Shrine of the Little Flower about 3am this morning returning from our 40th high school reunion. What did I spy at Christ's feet but the 24/7/365 front-lit printed sign: PRAY FOR END OF ABORTION

Not much changed there in our 40 years nor the 40 years before that. Truth is, I believe, Father C and his ilk DO KNOW THE DIFFERENCE and that's why they continue to be so persuasive...and so dangerous.

Julia said...

The tale told us here (or I should speak of an essay?) with your words and his paintings is fantastic. Thanks, Tom, for a glimpse of the profound path of human mind and the eternity beneath art.

TC said...

Many thanks, Julia.

But as the years trundle past, I cannot keep from wondering... just who ARE these guys on the bus in golden hats who glide past us on the way to Kansas City?

(And what's in Kansas City, anyway??)