… the bird is nowhere to be seen; his swoop is in the cloud rhythms and his beating wings in the limbs of a dead tree.
This is from the essay ‘Charles Burchfield: Nature as Sign’ found in Nature and Art Are Physical: Writings on Art, 1967-2008 by Rackstraw Downes (2014):
… He took more interest in music and literature than in the great schools of painting. The beauty of his career is that the more independent its direction, the better the work.
His art offends virtually all the predilections of modern taste. No Pirandellian preoccupation with the act of making art, no Cubist collage announcing the reality of the picture; from a watercolorist not even any splashy bravura washes or virtuoso dry-brush rendering; for Burchfield the medium serves the story-telling: it is what he has to tell that makes his use of it so original.
[line break added] One older artist seeing his early work remarked “If this is watercolor painting I have wasted a lifetime studying methods and techniques.” Burchfield commented, “No doubt he had, for by that remark he revealed that he was a true pedant; and a pedant cannot become an artist … because he puts form ahead of content and suffers over any deviation from what is ‘proper.’
… He once described himself as “96 percent introvert,” and the tone of his imagination is peculiar to the solitary. It revels in the pathetic fallacy, animating the natural world, coloring it — especially in his early works — in a deliberate attempt to recapture childhood moods, fearful, nostalgic, wistful. They are moods which are generally found embarrassing by the sophisticated, haunted since Baudelaire by more tortuous emotions. But as with the Celtic tales and plays of Yeats or the novels of Knut Hamsen, both favorites of the artist, this is a serious attempt to break with the artificial, to evoke life on a simpler, more elemental plane.
… In the middle 1940s, Burchfield, feeling that his work had digressed, turned to nature for his themes again; he even reworked some of his earliest pictures. Shortly before his death he said that he needed a quarter century more to finish what he had to say; while most artists would like to have this thought of them, and many persuade at least themselves that it is true … Burchfield did not exaggerate.
… In the best of these last watercolors (and they are uneven; there are some garish, theatrical monsters among them), whatever seemed quaint and contrived about the early ones is overcome; the curlicue becomes a loping arc made with a fat brushstroke; the harshly brilliant color grows luminous; little symbols vanish into a bold metaphorical design. In Sparrowhawk Weather the bird is nowhere to be seen; his swoop is in the cloud rhythms and his beating wings in the limbs of a dead tree.
Charles Burchfield, Sparrowhawk Weather