NARRATOR: Like many of Charles Burchfield’s paintings, Overhanging Clouds in July responds to nature emotionally rather than replicating its outward appearance.
JAMESWELLING: This painting has a lot of yellow in it, which is extremely unusual to paint yellow dashes and lines in the sky, and I think for Burchfield it represents a kind of force field.
NARRATOR: Photographer James Welling.
JAMESWELLING: He’s communing with nature and feeling the intensity of the heat and the sunlight, and he wants to put that physical response down on paper.
NARRATOR: Burchfield used color and form to communicate a feeling of nature’s majesty. He also used watercolor—usually thought of as a quick, casual medium—in a manner that suggests grandeur. He worked on this painting from 1947 to 1959.
JAMESWELLING: Burchfield had a very unique style of working with watercolor—dry, large scale, and slow.
One of the things that happens in watercolor is that the painting is never completely done and Burchfield exploits the fact that you can take a brush and water and re-wet the page in certain passages and remove parts of the painting, add new elements, as a way that watercolor is much more transitory than oil paint.
With oil, once it’s dry you have to really scrape to remove anything. With watercolor, you just re-wet it. In a painting like this, Burchfield’s working on it for ten years, he’s just able to pick up whenever he wants to and continue to work on the painting.