Some well-known artists of Buffalo Niagara
Charles Ephraim Burchfield
Born in Ashtabula, Ohio, Charles Burchfield (1893-1967) moved to Buffalo in 1921, where he spent the rest of is life. The artist worked for a local company, Birge wallpaper, for eight years, until he became so successful he was able to paint full-time. Represented by Rehn Galleries in New York, Burchfield exhibited his work in galleries and museums throughout America, to increasing acclaim.
The watercolor landscapes and urban scenes of Charles Burchfield are utterly unique (November Sun Emerging, 1956-59, at left). They can be moody and brooding or filled with Technicolor fantasies. Some of his works attempt to translate the sounds of insects and birds into visual imagery, while others pick up a painting started in twenty years earlier and complete it, creating a distinctive amalgam across the passage of time. The visual shorthand that Burchfield incorporates into his paintings makes them unmistakable. Writing for the New York Times in 2005, Roberta Smith notes, "The world was for him a pervasively animate place where everything was vibrating with light, energy and even sounds, and all were best captured in the thin, translucent hues and jittery marks of watercolor."
The Burchfield Art Center (later the Burchfield-Penney) was founded in 1966, a year before the artist's death. It contains a permanent installation of Burchfield's paintings.
An early pioneer in both experimental film and music, Tony Conrad (b. 1940) first became known in the sixties for his Flicker films, which consisted of flashes of black and white. These were important contributions to the structuralist film movement. Conrad is also associated with such groundbreaking avant garde musicians as John Cale, Angus Maclise, and LaMonte Young as an early member of the Theater of Eternal Music. The artist has focused more on his media work than music until recently; he began to tour as a musician and composer again in the late nineties. He has taught at the University of Buffalo's Department of Media Studies since the seventies and was instrumental in the founding of Buffalo's Squeaky Wheel, a media arts center.
Conrad received a retrospective of his video work in 1991 and was included in the 2006 Biennial of the Whitney Museum, among many, many other inclusions in film and video screenings internationally. In a review of a recent Conrad performance, Columbus Dispatch critic Curtis Scheiber notes that Conrad continues to uphold the minimalist spirit, reporting, "His set was the most challenging but also the most illustrative and liberating. In a raw tone, Conrad repeated a narrow range of notes over and over, eschewing melody, tapping harmonic dissonance and relying only on an organic pulse for tempo."
Landscape photographer John Pfahl (b. 1939) has been exhibiting his unique views of the natural and man-made world since the late seventies. His early work often juxtaposed formal structures and nature, while his more recent work has focused almost exclusively on such subjects as waterfalls, unique gardens, and the island of Bali. Pfahl is particularly well-known for two Western New York series: Arcadia Revisited, which includes Horseshoe Falls with Spring Ice, 1985, at left which traces the Niagara River from Lake Erie to Lake Niagara, including the Falls and Smoke, a seductive series of images of factory smoke.
Writing for the San Diego Union-Tribune, Robert L. Pincus says, "Pfahl, who has long taught and lived in upstate New York, can compose a pastoral picture as good as anyone's. He has an eye for both detail and sweep that makes a scene convincing." Writing for Art in America, Michael Klein notes, "Pfahl has done for the falls what landscape painters had hoped to achieve over a century ago when American landscape painting was considered the apogee of transcendental thought, and photographers were merely meant to document the here and now."
Pfahl continues to live in Buffalo, while maintaining a busy schedule of exhibitions and lectures throughout the country. His work is in the permanent collections of major institutions worldwide.
Milton Rogovin (1909-2011) was a nationally-renowned photographer who lived in Buffalo since 1938. An optometrist and labor organizer, Rogovin turned to photography when his political activities caused difficulties in his career. Rogovin has often used his photography to chronicle the lives of the working people of Buffalo and elsewhere (Working People, 1978-87, at right), often following certain families and individuals over decades, documenting their lives over long periods of time. Writing for the New York Times in 2004, critic Holland Cotter said, "...his pictures seem notably unmanipulative. He lets his subjects present themselves as they want to be seen; in spirit, the results are candid, unfancy, a step away from snapshots. They are also expertly crafted, and beautiful."
There are large collections of Rogovin's photography at the Smithsonian, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art and the Burchfield-Penney Art Center, among other major institutions.