Chaos and pattern: Artist Charles Burwell displays works in List Gallery

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Philadelphia-based artist Charles Burwell is displaying his work at the List Gallery in LPAC through October 2. The college held a reception yesterday evening attended by the artist. The event was quite crowded but still offered a superb chance to meet and talk with the man who conceived such an incredible style.

Attendees marvelled foremost at the brilliant colors and imaginative structures used by Burwell in his oils. These abstract pieces could be considered a series of marvellous landscapes, plastered one on top of the other. The artist may provide a base of light green vertical lines, heap layers of orange and white curves, and finally add asterisks of parti-colored wallpaper, as in “Inside/Outside.” Close inspection of some works can induce a kaleidoscope-like dizziness; they are literally dripping with colors and shapes.

One could spend hours with a friend describing the vaguely organic forms on these canvases as “getting caught in a melted plastic Skittles bag in a sidewalk on a sunny afternoon,” “Amoebas enjoying a party,” or even “sprouts bathed in new paint.”

Other less colorful, more brooding works, such as “Biolabyrinth No. 2″ are more disorienting than uninhibited. While Burwell retains his complicated spiral line designs, they seem angrier and deeper, reaching far back into some Kafka-esque night. The red background of Biolabyrinth No. 2” evinces real anger, the splotchy inkwell spots mark confusion. These make for a much more intense, and possibly more rewarding, viewing experience. The somber colors seem to fit the willful obfuscation of the patterns and lines.

In an interview, Burwell remarks that he has “developed this process over the last twenty years…it was a gradual evolution, my work used to be a lot more romantic, painterly, it has since become more graphic and the forms more stylized.” Unlike some current artists, he embraces technological progress, “My work’s inspired partly by technology in the early 21st century, a real desire to be involved in it. I’m beginning to indirectly respond to it, in fact, I used a computer program to develop imagery for these works, it provides flexibility and there’s more possibility.”

And as for computers themselves? “Just a tool at the moment- whether it becomes more of something, we’ll see.” Burwell does have reservations about certain computer designers, “Some use it to make very slick art, and I’m not interested in that. It all has the same Photoshop sheen.” Thankfully, the work displayed at the gallery is patently original. Bring a friend, or simply some psychedelic music, and experience it for yourself.

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