History And Context
Road and Sky, painted in 1917, which Burchfield considered his “golden year,” has the fluid, rhythmical style characteristic of his landscapes of that period. At this point he was still drawing compositions in graphite before painting. After applying watercolor washes, Burchfield added contrast and luminosity by using opaque black ink for the shadowy parts of the trees and passages of white gouache for highlights in the grass.
As a child, Burchfield had a great fascination with the weather. In Road and Sky Burchfield attempted to evoke the physical sensations of a hot summer day. The broad curves of the sky, painted while the paper was very wet, embody the sweltering heat and humidity of an Ohio summer. The curved V forms in the grass can be interpreted as shorthand notations for the flight of insects, humming and disturbing the silence. This sensitivity to weather conditions is a recurrent trait in Burchfield’s work.
The title of the painting is curious because it is what is between road and sky that holds the greatest interest. The trees are painted mostly in buoyant green shapes, implying growth and lushness. This seemingly mundane view of a country road and trees, though devoid of any obvious activity or drama, is mysterious in its impact and hypnotic in its suggestion of life beyond the visible. Burchfield has placed the emphasis on emotion rather than decorative effects. The painting suggests a sense of anticipation, but what waits beyond the horizon is not revealed.