Christopher Burk finds stillness and beauty in the flooded landscapes of 'Deluge'

Joel Oliphint
"Flooded Landscape 9" by Christopher Burk

Columbus artist Christopher Burk is quiet and reserved. He’s more comfortable lingering in the background, participating through the act of observation. He’s a watcher, a viewer.

That approach carries over to Burk’s paintings, which tend to reveal scenes that are often overlooked by those caught up in the busy-ness of life. And that unconventional perspective begets unconventional subject matter. For example, in a previous series, Burk pointed his gaze upward to paint hyper-realistic depictions of utility poles and crisscrossing telephone wires that made geometric shapes and patterns against dusky blue skies. In another, Burk peered into moonlit alleyways to paint trash cans illuminated by streetlights.

“I’m always looking for the beauty in things,” Burk said, and that even applies to disasters. Back in 2018, Burk was struck by TV news footage of Hurricane Florence, particularly the bird’s-eye view of helicopters surveying the flooded landscapes. That led to a new series of paintings, “Flooded House,” which depicted farmhouses protruding from calm, monochrome waters. Those studies became the jumping-off point for Burk’s new exhibition, “Deluge,” which opens at Brandt-Roberts Galleries on Friday, Sept. 4. (The Columbus Museum of Art will also feature a selection of Burk’s “Flooded House” series in November.)

The paintings from “Deluge,” all titled “Flooded Landscape” and followed by a number, take the ideas in the flooded house series even further. “Normally with my work, there are structures and man-made elements within it. With this newest series, you might have a path or a road or something, but other than that, they're without those touches of human beings and structures,” he said. “As a representational painter, that’s something that I still gravitate towards, but I've kind of married the representational with the abstract in a way where they're more subtle, more minimal.”

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Rather than lean into hyper-realistic depictions of trees and fields, Burk simplified the forms, with the greenery taking on topiary-like forms in watery landscapes characterized by flat, earthy tones. “I played with the colors. The palette has been totally different than what I've done with previous work. They're much more muted, more like pastels,” he said.

But even with this more minimalist approach and a subject matter referencing a natural disaster, “Deluge” feels related to Burk’s previous work; he manages to summon loveliness from the most unlikely scenes, and the work still conveys a sense of calm.

“Yes, this is something tragic. But ... it is serene; there’s a stillness to it. There is a beauty to it, as screwed up as it is,” he said. “It’s devastation, but after that there's kind of a weird hopefulness, too. The water's gone, and it's almost like a clean slate.”

Looking forward, Burk hopes to begin experimenting with scale, perhaps doing a similar series in larger sizes (the biggest piece in “Deluge” is 36 inches by 36 inches). He also plans to keep playing with color, especially during a forthcoming residency at Connecticut’s Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, named for the German-born artist who broke new ground in the way colors interact with each other. “How your eyes and your mind interpret color was a big thing in [Josef Albers’] work,” Burk said.

But those are just initial ideas — Burk isn’t going to rush into anything. He looks forward to experimenting, and taking the time to linger and observe.

"Flooded Landscape 3" by Christopher Burk