Saturday, July 7, 2012


Satellite-Dubai, 2012, mixed media on canvas over wood, 36 x 60 inches

Perry Burns
A Picture's Half Silence
Sara Nightingale Gallery

During a workshop in Turkey two years ago, among the transnational population of Arabs and Muslims, Africans and Kurds, a mélange of westerners and myriad other demographics, Perry Burns suffered a conversion. Suddenly the world -- so awash in political unrest, bloodshed, economic crises, and cultural myopia -- beseeched him to address its ruptures not only through his conscience but through his art. Burns retrenched, and some of the most stunning results of this new body of work are currently on view at Sara Nightingale Gallery.

Jali, 2012, mixed media on canvas, 48 x 48 inches

Throughout his artistic evolution, Burns' abstract paintings have embraced sumptuousness and sensuality -- buttery paint application,  complex layers of pattern and ornamentation, and luscious color -- but even the most robust composition could not address this artist's cultural third eye. And so, like a magnifying glass in the sun, he turned his focus squarely on the sorts of global issues that confront us every day: The Arab Spring, Iraq and Afghanistan, Syria, Africa, and the politics, intolerance, and civil unrest that haunts the broad landscape of our times.

Jali is latticed screen, often carved in stone
In the painting Jali (above), Muslim women adorned in stylish hijabs gather beneath Burns' application of a QR code lookalike or pixelated screen. 

An instrument of modesty, morality, and Muslim faith, the headscarf has seen renewed popularity since 9/11. Though the hijab and burqa are not without controversy in the Middle East, what the west widely views as an emblem of gender oppression is more often considered an affirmation of Muslim identity among the women who choose to wear them. Here, Burns invites us to examine the politics of the veil through a camouflage that reiterates the jali latticework so typical of Islamic architecture. These ubiquitous carvings, some dating back to the 12th century, are rigorous and labyrinthine. 

The pre-industrial meticulousness of jali invokes notions of meditation and fidelity and Burns employs the metaphor with striking affect. The partially redacted women appear both precious and imperiled, their obfuscation both an armament and a symptom of the cultural cross hairs by which they are often defined. 

Satellite Oman, 2012, mixed media on canvas over wood panel, 36 x 60 inches

For Burns, who is also an aspiring photojournalist, photography is the bellwether of cultural accountability, and the degree to which it is capable of providing the truth to us is incalculable. In the satellite paintings, he utilizes images of global surveillance that speak to a chilling reality: the entity holding the camera is Big Brother.

In Satellite Dubai, Burns addresses the image of this United Arab Emirates region with a smack of red and green, creating a visual friction that begs the question -- are these images based on reconnaissance?  Random pictures of earth? Coordinates for drone targets?

Satellite Hindu Kush, 2012, archival pigment print, 23 x 23 inches
Merging this degree of hot emotional content with the sort of acid-burn invoked by complementary colors provides a spectacular contrast both pictorially and intellectually.

Burns has said, "My work is most fundamentally about the politics of seeing," and here he reminds us that visual fact can be at the root of a pilgrimage through civilization.

As Perry Burns carves through the 
cultural minefields of the 21st century, 
his aesthetic decisions function like a modern cento (the poetic form that 
draws from passages and verse from 
other authors) in which fragments of global politics, technology, and world events, are collaged together to form new meaning. 

Hijab/Veil, 2012, mixed media on canvas, 48 x 48 inches

Don't miss this provocative show, on view through July 30th.


1 comment:

Pelo Steward said...

I like the painting Jali, just like you say, it looks like a QR code.