Burchfield’s and Feiffer’s work featured at Strohl

For the first time in more than 60 years, the work of Charles E. Burchfield will be shown at the Chautauqua Institution when The Paintings and Writings of Charles E. Burchfield opens at the Strohl Art Center.

Burchfield’s work was originally displayed at a show at Chautauqua in 1952, which served as a precursor to the Chautauqua Exhibition that began in 1957.

“There was an exhibition at McKnight Hall, which was then a small barn, because there was no exhibition facility at Chautauqua,” said Don Kimes, artistic director of Visual Arts at
Chautauqua Institution.

This summer’s exhibition will be curated by Tullis Johnson and maintained in cooperation with the Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo, New York.

“I had done three years with Albright-Knox [Art Gallery] and thought it was time to move to another institution, so I went one hundred yards across the street to the Burchfield Penney,” Kimes said.

According to Kimes, because Burchfield had such an influence on late 20th century painters, he eventually wants to present his work in concert with the art of those he inspired.

The exhibition has pieces from different points in Burchfield’s career, interspersed with his writings, which have a definitive poetic quality.

“His work was about life,” Kimes said. “Instead of life existing for art, it’s art existing for life, and that sensibility is really interesting and it comes out in a lot of his writing.”

Also opening in the Strohl Art Center is an exhibition titled “Humor.” It features the work of Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Jules Feiffer, along with other artists.

“It’s a small-scale show, but it ties in to theme week, and since Feiffer is here we thought we’d get some of his drawings in,” Kimes said.

The artists were chosen on the presence of humor in their works, whether the humor is straightforward or more metaphoric.

Feiffer, a self-described “child of the Cold War,” began drawing cartoons for the Village Voice in the 1950s.

“There was a sense of real repression,” said Feiffer of the tense climate of the McCarthy era. “You could put your whole career in danger.”

But Feiffer remained unfazed.

“My future couldn’t be in danger because I didn’t have one and I said exactly what I thought,” Feiffer said. “Readers responded immediately because I represented how they felt and often what they were afraid to speak about.”

While many of the reactions to his earliest work commented on how funny or clever it was, Feiffer said there were many who wondered how he “got away with it.”

“I felt that my job was to say things and explain things socially and politically that people thought about but didn’t express directly,” he said. “To find a humorous form, a satirical form … so as not to lecture them but to make them think about things that they hadn’t thought so much about before.”

“That was my assignment,” said the 85-year-old cartoonist. “And that’s the way I’ve been doing it ever since.”