Artist Review: Sickeningly Sweet Beauty
As part of digital artist JT Burke’s pursuit to explore the human obsession with paradise, ‘Big Opening Number’ represents his vision of the show and pageantry at the mythical pearly gates of heaven that we as a society have come to seek.
Having grown up in Hollywood, just off the 101, the Angelino’s work is a commentary on our culture’s obsession with religion and artificial beauty. And what better tool to drive that message than costume jewelry.
“Just as the jewelry is a manmade expression of beauty, so is paradise,” says the 54 year old as we walk through his spacious hardwood studio with giant skylights in South Pasadena.
Contrasting the shocking imagery that has come to define the contemporary art scene, Burke highlights the sham called paradise with images laden with pseudo religious symbolism from David’s star to a crescent.
While most of the elements of his compositions might have been in your grandma’s jewelry box, “this is not something your grandmother would have envisioned,” says Henry Lien, curator at the Glass Garage Fine Art Gallery in West Hollywood, where Burke’s work is currently at display.
Burke was not always a fine artist though. A commercial photographer and creative director of his successful photo agency, he bid adieu to the commercial world in 2006 and sought to let his creative juices flow and “be the man, not work for the man,” as he puts it.
His first collection, called Mechanical Botanical, explored the juxtaposition of the what’s man-made and what’s natural. A random encounter with a piece of costume jewelry within his materials set the wheels in motion for his current work.
Though his repository boasts about 2300 pieces that could grace the women of various period movies, sadly for his daughter and wife, he hardly owns any of them. Rather, he rents those pieces from antique stores and swap meets in and around Pasadena.
A self identified tech-geek, Burke relies on his 16GB RAM Mac Tower and the latest Adobe Photoshop software to manipulate his subjects such that he highlights the age and imperfections of some while others become virtually unidentifiable.
While creating elaborate composites using dye transfers in a dark room would have taken ages in the early 1990’s, can now be done reasonably fast in a manner of minutes thanks to Burke’s reliable apprentice, also known as Adobe Photoshop.
And there is always an option to undo and redo.
“I do not have a minimalist bone in my body,” says the Angelino as he walks me over to silver frames that he is constructing to hold his work. Rather than to constrain his work, Burke draws elements from the prints into his frames and extends his vision into three dimensions.
Frame making is a recently acquired skill. He did not always know how to make these. Last summer, he took a materials class at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena with his wife, artist Lorraine Angela Triolo, and learnt a bunch of techniques including laser cutting and vacu-forming. The final result are the custom made frames that will grace his digital prints in the near future – the final products were not finished in time for his current show at the Glass Garage Gallery.
A recurring motif in his work is his favorite bee, which he considers his alter ego. “He is a friendly looking bee” watching over Burke’s creations both symbolically and figuratively.
Seeking reality in his work, Burke specializes in highlighting natural and biological forms. His Mask series emphasizes this the best. Using very different components he creates a false sense of symmetry very much like that of a human face.
Though most of Burke pieces take anything between a couple of days to a couple of weeks, his larger compositions can take up to a few months. Each piece is available in limited edition from two to eight signed prints.
“I am not in the business of manufacturing art prints for cash. Having someone pay money is a sign of respect for my work,” says Burke.
Next up for Burke is a solo show for the Los Angeles Art Association in May.
And they say men cannot play with jewelry!
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