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Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967), Telegraph Music, 1949; watercolor and ink on paper, 11 5/8 x 17 5/8 inches; Burchfield Penney Art Center, Gift of Charles Rand Penney, 1994

Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967), Telegraph Music, 1949; watercolor and ink on paper, 11 5/8 x 17 5/8 inches; Burchfield Penney Art Center, Gift of Charles Rand Penney, 1994

Charles E. Burchfield: Audio Graphics

Presented in part by the Charles E. Burchfield Foundation

On View Friday, March 13–Sunday, August 23, 2015

In a journal entry from July 26, 1915 Charles Burchfield wrote:

What true poetry about a freight whistle! It is inexpressible.
It seems at times I should be a composer of sounds, not only of rhythms & colors —

The exhibition Charles E. Burchfield: Audio Graphics explores Burchfield’s works in terms of their musical symbols, by examining his fascination and love of sound, described in his journals.  These include the sounds of the city, his neighborhood and nature which he experienced while walking to the many sites that would become his paintings.  Burchfield equated these aural wonders to great compositional works of Beethoven, Bach and Sibelius, and used musical language to define his intent.  He also invented musical symbols to make his paintings more genuine to the environment he was capturing.

In a lecture from 1957 artist and composer John Cage said:

There is no such thing as an empty space or an empty time. There is always something to see, something to hear. In fact, try as we may to make a silence, we cannot.

In the early 1950’s John Cage and other composers of the “New York School” began experimenting with what become known as graphic notation.  Performers are asked to create a “realization” of the symbols presented by the composers. This realization is a guide line or interpretation of the symbols that allows for an over-arching structure of the composition in terms of duration, instrumentation and dynamics.

In 1961, Burchfield wrote:

An artist must paint, not what he sees in Nature, but what is there.  To do so he must invent symbols, which, if properly used, make his work seem even more real than what is in front of him.  He does not try to by-pass Nature; his work is superior to Nature’s surface appearances, but not to its basic laws.

Audio Graphics uses graphic notation and other Cage techniques to interpret Burchfield’s paintings, drawings and doodles, and to create musical compositions in Burchfield’s name.  These compositions are re-invented by compiling recordings of actual sounds described in Burchfield’s journals.  These will be followed by recordings of musicians interpreting paintings such as Telegraph Music on traditional instruments, employing the Cagean processes of graphic notation and indeterminacy.