Thursday, 26 January 2017

Amanda Burk at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery

Amanda Burk’s show at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery, “Stories of Contentment and Other Fables” mix contemporary and traditional approaches to create what could be described as visual poetry or as visual allegory for adults where Burk’s creative use of animal imagery in beautiful charcoal drawings are enhanced by their scale and method of presentation.  
     We are accustomed to animals representing us humans in fables and fairy tales, anthropomorphically telling a humanist story that might otherwise be too harsh and too close to reality for children’s ears. Traditional stories use this method of distancing to cleverly educate children, and even warn them, about the complexities of living a moral adult life, easing them into the adult maze with a humanist map forged in their minds. 
   For us adults, contemporary art can perform similarly where complex realities are transformed into subjective realms of feelings and philosophical meanderings. Quite different from traditional art or storytelling with a moral purpose, the contemporary realm of art has its drawbacks when too focused on itself rather than the subject at hand creating what artists and art historians call the “history of ideas” when the technique and aesthetic approach is demonstrably newer than the last. 
     Fortunately many contemporary artists avoid a pure discussion of aesthetics and use unique and clever approaches to better express the relationship they have with their inner selves, the outside world that affects them, and at their best a combination of both. The results can be visual poetry not intended to illustrate any specific story, idea or moral approach to life. This kind of mental kinship a viewer can often have with the artist is something to be found in traditional art and even in popular culture, but these subjective elements are often taken for granted whereas in contemporary art they are the focus. 
   And a contemporary art gallery has the space for physical creativity where the size and method of presentation of the art can be played with by the artist to help make their shows more dynamic and impacting.
     At the TBAG, Amanda Burk’s work puts you on an emotional journey, very cleverly achieved in the work, its presentation, and sequentially as if in a book, from left to right. Or potentially in the other direction or even from wall to opposite wall. 
    Amanda Burk’s beautiful drawings of animals are both technically brilliant and composed with great forethought to creatively generate feelings and potentially thoughts on current topics possibly similar to what Burk herself felt or thought when the inspiration came or during the work’s creation. In describing her work, Burk relates how present day influences affected her thoughts and feelings. She also described the journey she took in her practice that related directly to her life and world events. As a viewer you won’t learn these specifics unless they are relayed to you verbally or in a written text, but you may feel them in the show, which is quite the feat.
     The moon shaped imagery of sleeping animals on one wall are contrasted dramatically by animals violently lurching out from the dark spaces in the squares within a disorganized display of black picture frames on the opposite wall. 
     When you study the works take note of other opposites: square and circle, day and night, peace and anger/fear, balance and unbalance, black charcoal and white charcoal, white paper and black paper, white on black and black on white, sleeping animals and angry animals, jumbled active crowd and mirrored peaceful balance. 
      These multiple opposites and contrasts are clever expansions upon the drawings. They are like settings or backdrops for our animal friends, combining to make for a brilliant show, simplistic in some ways yet deep and thoughtful in others, a show worthy of your adult mind. 
    This show of recent drawings by Amanda Burk is on display at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery till March 26. And just to note, Nadia Kurd as curator has done a great job of picking out some amazing artists for us.
  Duncan Weller is a writer and illustrator of adult fiction and children's books. You can find them here.

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