Tom Burckhardt: Heads


February 18, 2023   -   April 2, 2023

At my core I am an abstractionist, but one who has some inherent distrust of its historical elitism and lack of humor. I think I have always tried to find ways to infuse it with a sense of its own absurdity, and poke some fun at it while showing my affection for its strength and ambition. I’ve also felt the need to resist a sense of purism and find ways of including elements of figuration, although often bleeding them of their literal realism to find an accommodation of the two spheres. In my recent paintings, I am using stretched linen, with hand cut stretcher bars, giving them a wobbly edge, somewhere just shy of being shaped canvasses. I like the odd funky quality this gives, humanizing their virtue and giving them more a sense of persona, than object.

As the paintings develop, I’m eager to keep things a bit off balance, and even awkward, allowing unintended ideas to infect the structure. I improvise and things are in constant state of revision and editing. I’m not thinking of any shape as shorthand for an eye, nose, mouth and I try to preserve their representational innocence for as long as possible. I find that I don’t want to find resolution until the very last moments to preserve the momentum and energy. It’s at this last point that vestiges of figuration can be conjured out of the abstraction in a condition of pareidolia, where we recognize images in non-objective situations. People tend to think of perception as just a matter of receiving information, like an antenna, but Pareidolia is a clue to the fact that our brains are always projecting, interpreting. 

I’m trying to bring the paintings up to an invisible line, the watershed between recognizability and visual wandering. I’m interested in is this initial recognition of the structure of a human face. Before the questions of gender or specifics of emotion or even race. It’s more basic and peculiar than that. The first thing we’re trying to decide is are these actually human or not.

I’ve always tried to get to the ecstatic place in in making work. To me ecstatic means you lose the rational thread, when you forget what time it is. Often I literally step back from a painting and suddenly see things I didn’t know would be there. That’s what I love. There is a sense of yes, I made this but I don’t know how I made it. Hopefully a spirit of generosity and inclusion is the result in these paintings.

What’s with the edges? Why do I do this?? 

I think the support is the parent of the painting. And just like the unattainable standards of being brought up by a pair of quantum physicists (for instance- this is not autobiographical) the offspring of that situation has a lot of pressure. With a stretched canvas rectangle the outer edges are always the most perfect straight line and everything in the interior of the painting must exist under that dictum. One way is to use a ruler or tape and try and have everything snapped tight. But that can bleed the life out and impede speed and intuition. One other pole would be to sling the paint loose, slash ’n’ dash creating some tension with the outer border. It’s a rebellious child, but still a received reaction.

I started jigsawing nice store bought stretcher bars for a few reasons: It’s a great stoopid thing to do, who else who be such a fool. It makes things weird, always a plus. I later found that if the outer edges aren’t the straightest, it can make my quickly painted straight-ish lines feel a bit straighter as they leapfrog over the tyranny of the physical edge, a bonus aspect. There’s rectangles and shaped paintings (E Murray, Gorchov, Overstreet etc- all great) but what about splitting the difference? And I found it is not always noticed on the first beat, a nice unsettling reorientation effect. Also gimmicks can be great when it signals some individuality. It’s harder than keeping them as is, and “why would I do this?” tries to put you in my absurd shoes.

Tom Burckhardt was born in New York City in 1964 and has spent his entire life living there. He graduated with a BFA in painting from SUNY Purchase in 1986 and attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture that same year. He has been exhibiting since 1992 at various NYC galleries such as Tibor De Nagy Gallery, Pierogi and Caren Golden Fine Art, and the Gregory Lind Gallery, San Francisco CA.

His most recent solo show of paintings was at George Adams Gallery NYC in January 2022. He participated in the 2016 Kochi Muziris Bienalle in Kerala, India and that installation piece,“Studio Flood” was shown at the Pierogi Gallery, NYC  in September 2017 and CMCA in Maine during Summer 2018.

He was an artist in residence at Yaddo Foundation in New York State in January 2019 and at Pepper House, Kochi, India, in January 2020.

He was a resident faculty at Skowhegan in 2007 and currently teaches part time at SUNY Purchase.