Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Bill Burke: Destrukto

Bill Burke
February 11 - March 15, 2011
Opening Reception: Friday February 11th  6 - 8 pm

Howard Yezerski Gallery is pleased to present Destrukto, a recent series of photographs by artist Bill Burke. Burke's work is visceral and immediate, but behind the action and explosions, the exotic locales, gruesome scenes and outré material there is a rigorous examination of photographic conventions. Throughout his career Burke has continually called into question the idea that the camera is, or could ever be, a disinterested tool, objective recorder of events, or device for the scientific collection of data. Instead, he revels in the inherent subjectivity of the photographic image, making art and books with a vitality that comes from being as untidy and irreducible as the world around us.

The Destrukto photos are large color images that riff on photography's history as a tool of scientific inquiry--think of Muybridge's studies of animal locomotion or Edgerton's images showing milk droplets frozen in miniature explosions--but, there is little sense of a clinical approach in Burke's freeze-frame photos showing the burst of glass and debris at the moment a bullet impacts an old camera or the thick spray of froth set spinning as a can of beer is shot with a high-powered rifle. If the spirit of scientific inquiry is present in these photos it is only as a comic foil, an excuse to pursue kinetic thrills, and the joy of wanton destructiveness. Burke's choice of targets is deliberate. Cans of Spam or Campbell's soup recall Pop art's insouciant take on Americana, while images of exploding Nikons and Yashicas make Burke's iconoclastic attitude toward photography abundantly clear.

The mayhem of the Destrukto works reminds us that photography was once an adventurous vocation. Bill Burke acknowledges that he was attracted to it because a photographer's life seemed to be one that combined danger, freedom, and a kind of heroic creativity into a heady and glamorous mix. As he developed his aesthetic in the early seventies he learned from New Journalism, especially photographic practitioners like Robert Frank, Larry Clark, and Danny Seymour, and writers like Hunter S. Thompson. He admired work where artistry and reportage were inseparable and artists who, defying standards that had previously defined quality in their fields, dispensed with the pretense of objective distance in order to present a picture of the world that was bracing, expressive and lyrical.

Born in 1943 Burke received his BFA and MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. His works can be found in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the International Center of Photography in New York, the Los Angles County Museum of Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Fine Art Boston, and the Smithsonian. He has been awarded Five National Endowment for the Arts grants, and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship.

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