Burckhardt exhibit celebrates uncertainty
Blurred images and hazy landscapes dominate "Tom Burckhardt: Paintings," a University Art Museum exhibit featuring the unconventional oil paintings of Tom Burckhardt , who abandons the canvas for cast-plastic backgrounds. Burckhardt's new work underscores the doubt present in the things we see around us and the things we attempt to construct.
Even in a time when digital photography and modern sculpture tend to eclipse more traditional art forms, for Burckhardt, the evolution of painting has a lot of room for growth . In fact, painting is more important than ever to illuminate the absurd nature of how we live today.
The most immediately striking thing in viewing his work is the proclamation of his paint, which Burckhardt achieves by using bright gradients and bold colors. In certain Burckhardt paintings the effect creates a sense of exaggerated reality. Houses are not green, faces are not red, patterns do not suddenly appear, but maybe, if the viewer squints hard enough or looks long enough, these things might eventually emerge.
In works such as Rakish (2011) , Burckhardt pursues the concept of fragmented reality . The face only half exists, to the point where the viewer often is not sure what Burckhardt is trying to display. The doubt comes back, not to mock the modern notion of painting, but rather to play with it, to display its flexibility.
In addition to their common theme of doubt, Burckhardt's paintings also use pareidolia. Pareidolia, seen in Rorschach's inkblot tests, describes the psychological situation in which people perceive vague or random images as significant. In Burckhardt's pieces, faces appear out of patterns, colors and shapes. An intriguing aspect of these works is this exact paralleling of patterns and colors. By default, our minds attempt to work out some significance in the way these elements are put together. We see faces and houses where objectively there are only green lines and black triangles. Burckhardt has described the process of realizing these images as though "they grow into individuals, as paintings, by growing into individuals as representations of faces."
Artists have not completely rejected cast-plastic and cardboard, but these types of mixed media are frequently considered to be a lower-class form of art. Certain factions of the artistic world praise such works, but many critics bemoan this alleged "fall" of the artistic form from its historic pedestal. Burckhardt focuses on the middle ground between these two attitudes. Burckhardt has seen the life cycle of painting occur many times over and he seems to show amusement in the face of its repeated death and resurrection. The hazy distortions of Burckhardt's paintings seem to dismiss the existence of previous works of the more academic artistic canon.
Conceptual quibbling aside, Burckhardt's interplay of colors and patterns is beautiful in its own right. Notions of doubt and historical ambivalence, however, underlie any sense of simplicity in his pieces. They are by no means immediately attractive, but their meditations on absurdity, doubt and the artificiality of conventional beauty make them fascinating fodder for both thought and sight.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article misidentified the name of the art exhibit as "Beauty in Doubt" rather than "Tom Burckhardt: Paintings." It also erroneously stated the exhibit was on display in Ruffin Hall rather than at the University Art Museum. Finally, it incorrectly claimed that a work titled "American" appears in the show. The Cavalier Daily regrets the errors.