The great museums of Europe were Marc Burckhardt’s childhood playrooms. Masterpieces were his picture books. The artists his storytellers. Dark, layered tales from Flemish masters, colorful sagas from Mexican muralists. He felt the magic of Byzantine icons, became fluent in the language of symbolism and learned to travel through time.
Every summer his family left Texas to stay in his grandparents’ apartment in Germany. There he drew endlessly on the reams of paper his professor mother brought home for him, making up stories as he drew, developing the vivid imagination and multicultural viewpoint that has led decades later to his upcoming show “Mythmaker” at Miami’s Mindy Solomon Gallery.
But you have to step in closely to really hear the story. “I utilize the potent blend of romanticism and propaganda embedded in classical western visual forms to rediscover the personal and moral meaning in these genres and to transform the familiar into the intimate.”
The pieces are small, mostly less than 10 inches. Look through the textured layers of varnish, a technique he uses to give the pieces the look of old relics, into the precisely painted wooden surfaces and the symbols will reveal themselves. Here’s Cassandra with a snake wrapped around her head, whispering in her ear. In Greek mythology she had the power of prophecy and the curse of never being believed. They called her an insane liar. Consider that Marc is a self-described news junkie, sorting fact from spin. Then ask: Whose advice have you ignored? Who are your mad liars and who are your prophets? “One of the things
I enjoy about making images is I don’t want to hit people over the head. Paintings have a life of their own. They leave your hands as the creator and have different weight for different viewers. I have a story to tell but I really enjoy hearing what others people’s responses are. That’s part of the process of making images, too.”
Pondering the Surreal Symbolism
He still spends a lot of time in museums but says, “There are two big places that all input comes from. One is the external world. I’m very much inspired by social and political events. Another obvious place is from inside myself. The universality of interpersonal experience: death, love, the meaning of life.” The richness of his symbols, distinguishes him from the outrageousness of the surrealists. “I don’t really feel it as surreal myself… My images are preconceived… in a symbolic way that relates to mythology. Everything in those paintings carries symbolic weight. They all carry meaning.” As in “Moirai,” a snail referencing the Greek goddesses of fate. Along the ground of destiny it slithers, reading the past like Braille,
coiling objects and critters into its shell.
His considerable body of illustrations and commissioned portraiture are often tongue and cheek, full of historic weight and sentimentality. They earned him the Hamilton King Award in 2011 during which his colleague Tim O’Brien lauded, “He makes ideas you’ve never seen before look as if they’ve always been on earth.”
Mythmaker at the Mindy Solomon Gallery, 172 NW 24th Street, Miami, May 8-July 26, opening reception on Thursday, May 8 from 6 to 9 PM.
Marc Burckhardt’s portfolio: http://www.marcart.net/Home.html