Duane Michals (b. 1932), Charles Burchfield and his wife in their garden in Buffalo, NY, 1966; gelatin silver print, 14 1/2 x 17 1/4 inches (Frame: 15 x 18 3/4 inches); Gift of Harriet and Mortimer Spiller, 1991

Duane Michals (b. 1932), Charles Burchfield and his wife in their garden in Buffalo, NY, 1966; gelatin silver print, 14 1/2 x 17 1/4 inches (Frame: 15 x 18 3/4 inches); Gift of Harriet and Mortimer Spiller, 1991

Duane Michals and Charles Burchfield by Nancy Weekly

Friday, April 26, 2013

As many Burchfield Penney Art Center enthusiasts know, the DC Moore Gallery (at 535 West 22nd Street, New York, NY) represents the estate of our museum namesake, Charles E. Burchfield. Their exhibition, Duane Michals: the painted photograph, is closing tomorrow, April 27, 2013. What many people may not know is that the paths of both artists converged in a curious way.

In the art world, Duane Michals originally became well-known for his narrative sequences with themes about dreams, desire, loss, and the spirit. His more recent work, “the painted photograph,” reveals an exciting new direction incorporating mixed media discussed in the catalogue essay written by Max Kozloff.

Michals also is widely respected as a commercial photographer whose work has appeared in major national publications. In 1966 he went on assignment for Esquire to shoot color photographs of Charles Burchfield to illustrate an article about four American artists. Even though the editor had good intentions in trying to honor artists who had been famous before Abstract Expressionism claimed the spotlight, it is fortunate that Burchfield was not alive to read the article’s title: “Art News From Nowhere: They woke up one morning and found themselves forgotten.” Burchfield died January 10, 1967, just as the magazine was hitting the stands, and one month after he cut the ribbon inaugurating our new “Charles Burchfield Center” at then-named Buffalo State University College on December 9, 1966. The 4-page spread included color photographs and comments by these artists, identified by their current residences:

Thomas Hart Benton, Kansas City, Missouri
Charles Burchfield, Gardenville, New York Photographed by Duane Michals
Henry Varnum Poor, New City, New York
Rockwell Kent, Au Sable Forks, New York

Here’s where the story gets intriguing. Once Michals finished his assignment, he asked Burchfield if he could take black and white photographs of his own. The result is as different as night and day. Michals’ photograph, Charles Burchfield & his wife in their Garden in Buffalo, N.Y., shows Burchfield as a compassionate, down-to-earth man who has a great love for the land and for his life-long companion, Bertha. Through textures in the contextual landscape that illustrate the richness of Burchfield’s devotion to landscape painting, Michals truly pays tribute to the elder artist. In 1978 Michals said about his photo narratives: “I had confused the appearances of trees and automobiles and people with reality itself. To Photograph reality is to photograph nothing.” In his photograph of Charles and Bertha Burchfield, Michals also photographed something beyond reality: the fundamental nature of Charles Burchfield’s life.

Nancy Weekly
Head of Collections and the Charles Cary Rumsey Curator

 

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