Q & A with Artist Activist Diane Burko

Diane Burko, Coral Life Cycle 4, version 2, 2018, Acrylic on Canvas, 20″ x 20″

Diane Burko is an artist whose practice is situated at the intersection of art, science and the environment, embracing issues of climate change. Burko began almost 15 years ago by investigating glacial melt and sea level rise and now focuses on our oceans and coral reef ecosystems.

“The impact of climate change all of over the planet interests me, as a research-based artist, I collaborate with scientists by visiting their labs, studying and incorporating their data in my work. I also bear witness. I’ve investigated the ice fields of Greenland, Iceland, Svalbard and Alaska as well as the southern polar regions of Antarctica, Argentina’s Patagonia, and the melting glaciers in New Zealand’s southern alps. I’ve investigated our ocean’s coral reef eco-systems in Hawaii and American Samoa. In October 2019 I explored Chile’s Rapa Nui and Atacama Desert – other areas of the world also threatened by climate change.”

Burko’s inclination is to witness, translate, and communicate scientific information through her paintings, photographs and time-based media. “It’s how I personally and professionally counter climate doubt – my way of entering into the public discourse with the goal of moving the viewer to reflect, take responsibility and act.”

Left: Diane Burko, Grinnell Glacier Overlook #3 1920 NPS Archive, 2010, oil on canvas, 24″ x 48”
Right: Diane Burko, Grinnell Glacier Overlook #4 2008 after Steven Mather, 2010, oil on canvas 24″ x 48”

As you began your early career as a painter, what was the defining moment that led to the leap into photography and presenting your work through both mediums?

The camera has always been part of my tool kit. As a landscape painter who’s attracted to large monumental geological phenomenon – taking photographs onsite and from the air is my main method of recording the experience.  Those images along with on-site sketches are the sources I reference back in the studio.

Around 2000, I realised that some of my photographs were strong enough images themselves, and so I began to print from slides and then later process 4×5 film. I became more enthusiastic and productive when digital processing became available. Recently I’ve added time-based media, lenticular’s and video to my practice.

Diane Burko, EQI SERMIA CALVING 40 x 60 inches, Archival Pigment Print, 2014
Diane Burko, Morning Sail, August 6, 40 x 60 inches, Archival Pigment Print, 2014
Diane Burko, Spert 40 x 60 inches, Archival Pigment Print, 2013

Having visited so many isolated areas of the world within your field of work, what has been the most alarming viewpoint or information you have gained whilst documenting the areas you have visited?

The glaciers retreating is so obvious and compelling as evidence of global warming. All you have to do is just reference earlier views of the same spot to see it before my eyes.

Diane Burko, Nunatak Glacier 1, 2, 2010, oil on canvas 60″ x 134”

Is there a pivotal moment within your career that led you to create informative art?

My art always informed the viewer of the landscape which enthralled me. But connecting that site with issues of climate change first occurred to me in 2006 after reading Elizabeth Kolbert’s book: Notebook on a Catastrophe, and having seen Al Gore’s movie: Inconvenient Truth, all in the same year. Because I had painted many images of the alps way back in the ’70s, I wondered if the snow and ice was still there. I began to seriously read and study more about global warming. 

Diane Burko, UNESCO National Heritage 2, 2015, oil and flashe paint on canvas 42″ x 72”

Can you explain your relationship with scientists and how you use their information to influence your art?

I see scientists as kindred spirits. We are each involved in a creative process:  curious, wanting the challenge of solving problems, making connections and discoveries, trying new methods/materials, thinking outside the box, connecting the dots and taking risks.

While both Art and Science are basic for a civilisation to thrive, I see Science to be more crucial. It has advanced our lifespan through vaccines, life-saving drugs, and implants, taken us to the moon and given us the internet, although we need Art to help keep us human, empathetic beings.

I am a “science-curious” person. Caring about our planet requires more than an emotional desire – it requires knowledge. Scientists provide that for me by sharing research, which I deeply appreciate. They in turn appreciate how I fold that into my work and into my public engagement. We have a symbiotic relationship.

Main Rongbuk Glacier Series, 1-3, 2010, oil on canvas, 48″ x 74”, 48″ x 74”, 48″ x 60”

Who are your biggest inspirations within your areas of work, as an activist and as an artist?

As an activist: people like Greta, Bill McKibben, Al Gore, Naomi Oreskes, Elizabeth Kolbert, Rebecca Solnit, Lucy Lippard.
As an Artist: Mel Chin, Mary Frank, Ólafur Eliasson, Helen and Newton Harrison, Eve Mosher, Edward Burtynsky and James Balog

Arctic Peninsula, 2015, oil and flashe paint on canvas, 20″ x 20”

Explain your thought & process behind the lenticular series.

This lenticular medium is basically made from an animation comprised of 30 frames from videos of liquid paint moving and flowing on a surface. That animation is then digitally interlaced and printed onto film laid over a lenticular lens. That’s what makes it appear to move as one passes by, thus being an interactive experience inviting the viewer to wonder and engage.

It is the perfect format to communicate the fluidity of my underwater experiences as well as the multiple perspectives from which I observed the reefs. It allows me to express the various colour experiences collected on my expeditions in the Polar regions as well as the Pacific.

These circular images provide multiple interpretations, ranging from a “portal” view underwater to the aerial perspective of a satellite, to a microscopic glance into the movements of polyps – the living organisms of a coral. The series was created in collaboration with Anna Tas, an artist whose métier is “lenticular”.  Together we combined Anna’s technical knowledge as well as aesthetic skills with my on-site impressions.

Diane Burko, Kumimi Beach, Molokai, video simulation of a lenticular print and lightbox, 13.5″ x 13.5″ framed

A note from the artist, Diane Burko

This series was created in collaboration with Anna Tas, an artist whose métier is “lenticular.” Together we combined her technical knowledge as well as aesthetic skills with my on-site experience.

This series invites the viewer to wonder and engage by utilizing this time-based, lenticular medium to provide visual references to my experience bearing witness in the field and in the lab. Thus each circular image provides multiple interpretations, such as a “portal” view underwater, the aerial perspective of a satellite, a reenactment of melting glaciers, or a microscopic glance into the movements of polyps – (the living organisms of a coral.)  The interactive quality of these metaphors invite the viewer to contemplate and discover.

50% of all proceeds from this collaboration will be donated directly to 350.org, an international movement of ordinary people working to end the age of fossil fuels and build a world of community-led renewable energy for all.

This post originally appeared on Tomorrow Creates and was republished with permission.

Photo Friday: Images of Europe’s July Heat Wave

Temperature records fell one after another in Europe last week with five countries—Great Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Luxembourg—registering record highs.

A study conducted by World Weather Attribution concluded that temperatures during the hot spell would have been 1.5-3 degrees Celsius cooler if not for the additional warming brought about by human-caused climate change.

Rank of annual maximum temperatures observed in Europe in 2019 compared to 1950 –2018, based on the E-OBS data set (Haylock et al., 2008, version 19, extended with monthly and daily updates to 30 July 2019). This figure is made with preliminary data and should be taken with caution as some measurements are not yet validated. (Source: World Weather Attribution)

Video posted to Twitter shows how rising temperatures are impacting Europe’s alpine glaciers. Severe-weather.EU posted footage of a massive mudslide barreling down a mountainside on July 28th at the height of the heat wave. The group alleges the mudflow was brought about by melting glaciers in Mauvoisin, Switzerland.

The high pressure system that parked over Europe and brought about the record heat has since moved north, where it’s led to potentially record-breaking melt across Greenland’s ice sheet.

The familiar images of temperature anomalies that are produced by the world’s climate and weather agencies have inspired Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based artist Diane Burko, who is currently working on a painting depicting the July heatwave in Europe.

An image, provided by artist Diane Burko, shows progress on her painting “European Heat Wave.”

Read More on GlacierHub:

What Moody’s Recent Acquisition Means for Assessing the Costs of the Climate Crisis

Rob Wallace Installed to Post in Department of the Interior

Dispatches from the Cryosphere: Intimate Encounters with the Intricate and Disappearing Ice of Everest Base Camp

Glaciers and Reefs with Diane Burko

This post was originally published by Sciart Magazine in December 2018.

Landscape paintings instigate in me a sense of long-lasting connection. They make me feel grounded. Yet, looking at the works of Diane Burko, I get a feeling of impermanence. Her landscapes do not look entirely solid. I see in them cracks, pores, and deformations with liquefied layers underneath. Exhibited at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., just a few of blocks from the White House, these works are a timely criticism from the artist, a well-established painter and photographer who has been devoting her work to environmental topics over the past few decades. Based on her extensive travel records, she designs series of paintings of vast glacial poles and island reefs. Her seductive, pleasing paintings of nature bate and pull us to fall for their beauty. And then, as we absorb the visual allure, we grasp the meaning of their inevitable loss.

“Arctic Melting” (2016). Oil on canvas (Source: Diane Burko/Sciart Magazine).

In her process, Burko takes on the roles of naturalist, painter, and activist. At the outset, she is a traveling naturalist. Through her extensive fieldwork she produces studious records of far-away geographies. Flying, hiking, and swimming, she photographs everything she sees, from the north and south poles to the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Like a pre-19th century naturalist in fast motion, Burko criss-crosses the world, taking photographs in lieu of sketches, in the process of collecting information.

Back at her studio, Burko changes roles from an environmentalist traveler to an artist. Using her photographic surveys as the source material for her paintings, she develops them into final canvases. As her paintings emerge, however, they seem different to me from those produced by the early landscape painters. The old canvases are imposing, masculine pieces that depict awe at the permanence of nature. Meanwhile, hers are concerned, and gentle. The audience sees her genuine worry that these landscapes will soon be gone, and heeds her activist call to prevent such an outcome. In the context of the 21st century, her practice takes on an added meaning.

“Visions of Beaufort Sea” is an oil painting from her glacial series based on photos from the northern Arctic Circle. Burko constructs a glacial image form in thick impasto. She then interrupts this bright picture with patches of dark earth tones. She further dramatizes the imperfection of this glacier as she allows its surface to crack and appear damaged, revealing dark layers underneath.

“Visions of Beaufort Sea” (2016). Oil on canvas (Source: Diane Burko/Sciart Magazine).

In “Arctic Melting,” Burko captures an aerial view of another glacier using centripetal strokes. The snow seems unsettled as she draws cerulean gestural lines on the pasty white spiral. Other darker blues and ochres frame this round bright area. I can see the glacier as a centrifuge, losing its cohesion, turning the solid snowy mass into dynamic composition reminiscent of weather maps.

​The consistency of landscape becomes even more ambiguous in her more recent reef paintings in which earth and sky are indistinguishable. In her attempt to capture the fluid surfaces of disappearing corals in the American territorial islands, Burko shifts from oil to acrylic paint. This allows her to create thinner and more liquid-like surfaces. She handles her paint like watercolor, creating all-over pools of aqueous compositions meant to depict impressions of underwater colonies. “Faga’alu” is one such image of soft colorful patches blending into each other that we are guided by the label to interpret as water and sky. But Burko does not stop her work at the beautiful abstraction. Adding science-based visuals to her work, she magnifies certain pixels to show their detail, borrowing this vocabulary from computer mapping. She also adds pencil marks outlining the geographic shapes of the reef’s interface. These lines follow the narrative of dissolved corals washing away into the turbulence of sea and air.

“Faga’alu” (2018). Acrylic on canvas (Source: Diane Burko/Sciart Magazine).

Looking at her reef paintings, I get the sense that Burko is in a rush. She modifies her practice in order to be able to complete her survey, creating series of smaller works. “Reef Grid” (2017-18) is a set of 27 small panels hanging side by side in three parallel rows. “Reef Lenticulars” (2018) is another series of transparent layered prints displayed in light boxes. The columns and rows of these works reflect multiple schemes that encompass the richness of submerged seascapes. With their various colors bleeding into each other, these assorted panels give the sense of underwater chaos. Yet, at the same time, organized in matrices, these sets of images create the appearance of validated formats of biological ecosystem studies.

“Reef Grid” (2017-2018). 9″ x 12″ each. Acrylic on boards (Source: Diane Burko/Sciart Magazine).

Through her painted survey, Burko provides to the viewer something that the camera could not. Her canvases are permanent records and concrete objects that demand attention. They are different from photo documentations that we can easily click through. Burko makes us pause, insisting we return to the slow practice of engaging with painting. Although her style is different from that of earlier nature painters like Thomas Cole and Fredrick Church, she also retains their foundational belief that despite modernity, a direct connection between humanity and nature is still possible.

Nearly 200 years after her predecessors, Burko continues the tradition of showing our collective connection to the natural environment that we’ve been slowly melting and acid-washing away. She travels frantically and then paints in haste. Her encounters with nature offer testament to irreversible landscape changes. The escape to nature and the yearning for its stable connection turns into the acceptance of its imminent passing away. Thinking of landscapes as transient, she gives them the fluid quality of memento mori.

GlacierHub News Report 04-10-18

Pilot News Report



We are proud to present our first ever GlacierHub News Report. The GlacierHub News Report is a bi-monthly video news report that features some of our website’s top stories. We know our readers are busy, so we created the GlacierHub News Report to catch you up on the latest glacier news.

This week’s news report features:

Peruvian Farmer Explains Lawsuit Against Energy Firm

By: Brian Poe Llamanzares

Peruvian Farmer Saul Lliuya prepares for the next step in his legal battle against German energy firm RWE. He knows the odds are stacked against him, but with the help of Germanwatch and research from Instituto Nacional de Investigacion en Glaciares y Ecosistemas de Montaña, he hopes to win this case.

Read more here.

Artist Diane Burko Shows Us Our World, and It’s Vanishing

By: Jade Payne

We interviewed Diane Burko about her newest exhibition, Vast, and Vanishing, on display at the Rowan University Art Gallery, as well as her upcoming project that takes her in a new direction exploring coral reefs.

Read more here.

Inequality, Climate Change, and Vulnerability in Peru

By: Angela Quevedo

In March, we published an article regarding the vulnerability of small-scale farmers in Ancash, Peru. A recent study, suggests that climate change is just one of several factors placing pressure on farmers; rather, a collection of socio-political and economic factors are the main cause of vulnerability.

Read more here.

Glacial Geoengineering: The Key to Slowing Sea Level Rise?

By: Andrew Angle

Could building underwater walls in front of glaciers slow down melting and possibly avert devastating sea level rise? A postdoctoral researcher at Princeton thinks it might, proposing that a wall’s construction on a glacier grounding line could limit warm water from melting the ice from below. The idea is still in its very early stages and has many engineering and feasibility questions that still need to be addressed.

Read more here.

Video Credits:
Presenter: Brian Poe Llamanzares
Video Editor: Brian Poe Llamanzares
Writer: Brian Poe Llamanzares
News Intro: YouTube
Music: iMovie

Artist Diane Burko Shows Us Our World, and It’s Vanishing

“Vast and Vanishing” exhibition sign at the Rowan University Art Gallery (Source: Diane Burko).

The environmental artist, Diane Burko, has been on the forefront of documenting the changing landscapes of climate change for several years, as GlacierHub has documented. Her latest exhibition, “Diane Burko: Vast and Vanishing,” will feature large-scale paintings and photographs that offer a striking look into the contrasting world of beauty and despair. It Is currently on display at the Rowan University Art Gallery in Glassboro, New Jersey, until April 21, 2018.

Diane Burko is well versed in combining art and science to communicate a message of urgency to those who view her work. She has long collaborated with scientists and researchers to accurately depict their work as well as our world in its state of impending change. She recently spoke with GlacierHub about her current exhibition, as well as her upcoming project on coral reef degradation which promises to take her work, and viewers, into new territory.


GlacierHub: Has the message of your latest exhibition, ”Vast and Vanishing,” evolved since your last series, or is it meant to be a continuation?

Diane Burko: The message is very much the same: we “live in perilous times.” What has changed is the dramatic intensity and speed with which we are all experiencing the effects of global warming on our planet. I guess you could say my personal sense of urgency has grown.


GH:  What served as your main source of inspiration for ”Vast and Vanishing”?

Diane Burko speaking at the opening of her newest exhibition (Source: Diane Burko).

DB: The work in this show summarizes my exploration of how data about melting glaciers can be used to explain climate change visually. Repeat photography, recessional lines, and Landsat imagery are sources I draw from to this end. By borrowing from scientific research, I am translating and transforming such devices into my visual lexicon.


GH: How do you choose which glaciers or landscapes to focus on?

DB: I work with some of the most dramatic examples of how climate change is affecting our landscapes – such as Columbia Glacier, Grinnell, and Jakobshavn in Greenland. These locations and their diminishing volume makes the need for urgency clear.


GH: Your recent work has involved heavily contrasting colors, especially white and black. I’m curious to know, what provoked this change?

“ELEGY FOR GRINNELL GLACIER, Montana” by Diane Burko, as part of the “Elegy Series” (Source: Diane Burko).

DB: You may be referring to a specific group of works I made in 2016, the “Elegy Series.” I chose to use stark and somber contrasting forms of white and black or dark blue to invoke what an elegy is: a poem or lament for the dead. Each painting in this series is a fabrication that I created–and while they are not literal images of glaciers, their abstract, crackling forms reference aerial views of glacial landscapes. Each print is named after a glacier or area in the world whose existence is being threatened dramatically.


GH: I see in one of your Instagram posts that you have changed your cold-weather gear for diving equipment and flippers! How will your art change? Also, how does your new exhibition fit in with your new direction?

DB: My exhibition at Rowan covers paintings I’ve made over the past few years about climate change in glacial regions— and although I may return to the subject in the future, it is a really nice and well-timed bookend for that project. My glacial work is focused on looking at the past–the landscape in years prior— which contrasts with the present state in climate change.

Diane Burko in the process of creating art for her upcoming project “Kai ‘Apapa” (Source: Diane Burko).

I am now working on a new project called “Kai ‘Apapa,” investigating coral reef degradation alongside musicians Evan Ziporyn and Christine Southworth and scientist Samiah Moustafa— we’re producing a multimedia performance and installation with original music, which we hope to present over time at various venues.

I’m also working with the phenomenon of reef ecosystems in my personal painting practice where the challenge and attraction for me is to use this underwater imagery in a way that garners awareness and empathy for a threatened component of our planet.

This work is still evolving— leading me to l experiment with new materials and media such as lenticular images, light box presentations and video.


GH: I noticed you will be presenting your work and participating in an upcoming panel on April 5 at Rowan University. What are you most looking forward to?

DB: My work is deeply indebted to the support of members of the scientific community— as such, I’m so excited to learn from the other individuals on the panel, and from the discussion with the audience. Exchanging knowledge and learning from scientists really exists at the core of my artistic practice. I believe that engaging in conversations with people from a multitude of disciplines can lead to new depths of meaning aesthetically as well as intellectually.

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Be sure to check out Diane Burko’s new project, “Kai ‘Apapa,” as well as her recent book, “Glacial Shifts,” which features 40 of her past pieces and more.

Diane Burko’s New Exhibit, New Book, New Focus

Diane Burko at Raudfjorden, Svalbard. 2013 (source: D. Burko).

GlacierHub has featured the striking paintings and photographs of Diane Burko on several occasions (see here, here, here and here). A retrospective, Glacial Shifts, Changing Perspectives: Bearing Witness to Climate Change, presents her recent and current work. It is now on display at the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where it will run through September 30, 2017.

A catalog, with the same title as the exhibit, has been published. It includes reproductions of 40 of her pieces, along with an introduction by the Walton Art’s Center curator Andrea Packard, an article by William Fox of the Nevada Museum of Art which places Burko’s work in the context of mountain art, and an analytical essay by the art critic Carter Ratcliff, who has written on other American artists, including John Sargent Singer and Andy Warhol.

Cover of catalog which accompanies Burko’s current exhibit (source: Walton Arts Center).

The exhibit and catalog include work from Norway, Argentina, Greenland, and Antarctica, showing Burko’s engagement with the cryosphere. Her work adopts the task of promoting awareness of climate change. Her work also presents her simply as a painter and photographer with careful attention to technique and form and deep familiarity with many currents in modern and contemporary art.

Burko is at the forefront of new explorations of the art/science frontier. She does not simply present scientific maps and charts as data, or as beautiful images. Rather, she leads her viewers to see them as objects in the world that co-exist with art and with the natural world itself. In this way, she allows us to see our rapidly changing world more clearly, to think about it more deeply, and to engage with it more fully.

We recently interviewed Burko on the works in this exhibit and catalog. We were pleased that Burko’s publisher agreed to offer the book to readers of GlacierHub at a 20% discount. Details appear at the end of the interview.


GH: Some paintings show brushstrokes that reveal your motion, as you painted them. These paintings offer an oblique view. This is a contrast with the overhead view of other paintings, with cracks in the dried pigment, which suggest flying above a glacier landscape filled with crevasses. Are you seeking to convey a different experience of yours, or a different aspect of the glaciers?

Nunatak Glacier #1, #2. 2010 (source: D. Burko).

DB: This diptych Nunatak Glacier is an earlier work from my first project called Politics of Snow, shown in 2010. That catalog can be seen on my site. At that point, all the images I painted were “out-sourced” from USGS, National Snow and Ice Center or individuals. This example of repeat photography contrasts Bradford Washburn’s 1938 shot with a photojournalist’s effort to repeat the same vantage point in 2005. I made this painting in 2010. The style is more consistent with the way I was painting at the time. I think the “oblique view” is customary for this kind of documentation by glaciologists.


GH: Some of these paintings offer two views of the same peak from the same point, with different light and weather, a bit like Monet’s haystacks and views of Notre Dame. Some of your other work emphasizes  the surprise of the first encounter with a glacier, or the challenges of arriving in a harsh environment. These multiple views point to longer stays, to growing familiarity. Is this a theme you are seeking to evoke?

Matterhorn Icon Series 8. 2007  (source: D. Burko).

Matterhorn Series 6. 2007 (source: D. Burko).

DB: The curator, Andrea Packard, selected 6 out of the 12 original paintings from this Matterhorn Series – actually my first attempt to address issues of climate change in 2007 (also in that Politics of Snow show). By including Series VI and VIII, she could say the exhibit surveyed the last decade.

Your Monet reference is so apt being that I spent six months on a residency in Giverny and enjoy working in series. However my strategy here was to provoke the viewer. I thought naively that by seeing so many different versions of this iconic mountain one might think about the snow and the melt. I realized it was too subtle an idea and quickly turned to the “repeat” strategy which was the core of this major exhibition.


GH:  Some paintings involve new use of line, particularly the arc of a circle which echoes the other lines in the painting, which may indicate the partially obscured shorelines. The arc might evoke a parallel, one of the lines of latitude which become tight circles close to the poles. Does this use of line offer a reference to cartography, to the abstraction of science, or to something else— or is it non-referential altogether?

Arctic Melting July 2016 (After NASA). 2016 (source: D. Burko).

DB: You are spot on! YES, it is a device I have used. You are referring here to Arctic Melting, July 2016.  This one also used latitudinal lines and indicates how Landsat images are sometimes put together— with mosaics— so yes, I love combining/contrasting painterly gestures with scientific markers.

Arctic Cyclone, August 2012 (after NASA).
2012-2013 (source: D. Burko).

I try to utilize cartographic, scientific references whenever possible, most notably in a painting which was hanging in the American embassy residence in Helsinki: Arctic Cyclone, August 2012 (after NASA) as part of the Arts in Embassies Program of the US Department of State.

UNESCO National Heritage II. 2015 (source: D. Burko)

Here is another example, this one painted a year earlier than Arctic Melting. It’s called UNESCO National Heritage II. Also in the show.

In a more recent work, not included in this exhibition, I’ve taken those lines to a more abstract level with a series about the Beaufort Sea which experienced dramatic melt last summer. Here is one example.

Visions of the Beaufort Sea I. 2016 (source: D. Burko).

GH: One image seems strikingly new for its depiction of dust-covered snow and ice, its direct display of recently-melted ice (the valley in the middle), the heavy shadow in the back, and the high horizon line. Taken together, these convey powerfully the loss that has already occurred in glacial landscapes. What was your experience of making this?

Viedma Landscape, 2015 (source: D. Burko).

DB: That is NOT a painting but a 40” x 60” archival inkjet print taken from my expedition to the Patagonian Ice Field in Argentina – it’s the Viedma Glacier! More of them on my photo site.


GH: Carter Ratcliff describes your paintings as “referential” rather than abstract. What relationship do you see between this word and the more common term “representational”? Do you find that this term fits your work?

DB: I love his use of this word. I am not trying to copy but rather referencing my personal experience, knowledge gained from the science, and a deep sense of urgency.


GH: You have been addressing climate change in your work for some years now. What are the new thoughts and feelings that have come to you in the last year about this approach? 

DB: Another perfect question! I have been focused on climate change for the past decade. Now more than ever, in this shameful political era, I am committed to continuing my efforts to express the urgency of this issue through my practice and also through public engagement.

In terms of a specific direction in my practice: I am about to leave the frozen waters to explore warmer ones around the equator. I am about to embark on a project with three other collaborators called: Kai-Apapa which means coral reef in Hawaiian. Here is our site: www.kaiapapa.com.

Off of Mossman. 2017 (source: D. Burko)

On my recent trip Down Under, I flew over the Great Barrier Reef and began a new photographic series – not yet on my site. Here is a sneak preview.


To order Burko’s Glacial Shifts, Changing Perspectives at a 20% discount, go to the book website http://glacialshifts.com/, click on the “buy book” button and enter the code: glac1. This offer will run through June 30, 2017.

Marking ‘Traces of Change’ with Artist Diane Burko

Burko, Traces of Change exhibition at Cindy Lisica Gallery, as part of Fotofest Biennial 2016, source: Lisica)
Burko, Traces of Change exhibition at Cindy Lisica Gallery, as part of Fotofest Biennial 2016, source: Lisica)

Traces of Change, a solo exhibition by the painter and photographer Diane Burko, features a number of images of the cryosphere. It is currently installed at the Cindy Lisica Gallery in Houston, and will remain open until April 16. Burko’s sustained engagement with geological phenomena on many scales has led her to travel to glaciers and ice sheets in the Arctic and Antarctica, where she observes and records with cameras and sketchpads from the air and from the ground.  GlacierHub has presented two projects of hers from 2014, Politics of Snow and Polar Investigations, and conducted an interview last year on her reflections on the relations of art, science and public life.

This exhibition features recent large-scale photographs, paintings, and photo-based works, many of them drawing on collaborations with glaciologists. The Deep Time project, included in this exhibition, draws on the artist’s January 2015 travels to the Patagonian ice field in Argentina. These pieces contrast objects—often quite different ones–from the remote past and from the immediate  present, and invite viewers to recognize both the great age of our world and the presence of forces operating on it at the current moment. This exhibition also presents the Elegy Series with printed works that are enlargements of details from her paintings, and that bear a striking resemblance to aerial views of glacial landscapes. In this way, these works establish connections between the surface of a painting and the surface of a planet.  These works serve as elegies through their sustained reflections and their laments for locations threatened by climate change, but they are not simply works that mourn: rather, they suggest the urgency of attentiveness to the world, and the potential of creative work to transform our awareness into action.

GlacierHub: The title of your show is “Traces of Change.” This could mean that the images show traces of change, or that the images themselves are traces of change. Do you lean towards one meaning or the other–or towards both?

Diane Burko: I wanted “traces” to stand for the idea of recording, marking and indicating change, as in the rapid melting of glaciers. The lead piece in the show that speaks to this is the Jakobshavn-Ilulissat Quartet, which actually includes one panel (the third) which quotes the recessional maps used by glaciologists to indicate such change over time. The one I referenced for my painting traced change from 1850 to 2012.

Jakobshavn-Ilulissat Quartet, D. Burko, 2015, Oil on Flashe Paint on Canvas, 42"x228" overall. Installed at Cindy Lisica Gallery. (source: Burko/Lisica)
Jakobshavn-Ilulissat Quartet, D. Burko, 2015, Oil on Flashe Paint on Canvas, 42″x 228″ overall. Installed at Cindy Lisica Gallery. (source: Burko/Lisica)

GH: A number of your images show paint that has dried and cracked, and that look like crevasse-filled glaciers photographed from the air. What associations do you see between paint and ice?

Elegy for Grinnell, Montana, D. Burko, 30"x 30" (source: Burko/Lisica)
Elegy for Grinnell, Montana, D. Burko, 30″x 30″ (source: Burko/Lisica)

DB: The pieces you are referring to are part of a current series called “Elegies.”  My intention is to provoke an uneasy visual tension in response to these fictional images, where the viewer struggles to make sense of the material as if they are actually seeing photographs of aerial views of melting glaciers.

I found a painting material which indeed mimics patterns reminiscent of the cracking of ice revealed in aerial images of polar seas, glaciers, and ice fields. I’m particularly pleased with this development because it joins both my practices, painting and photography, in a unique combination.


GH: Some of the images in your show are pairs–two images, both the same size, placed side by side. Other images are hung separately, though there are other images of the same size. How do these two approaches work together?

DB: The paired images you are referring to are part of a series of another recent project called “Deep Time.” All ten pairs, based on a 2015 expedition to Argentina’s Patagonian Ice field, are a metaphoric exploration contextualizing geologic time. The past and present are contrasted in these large scale images. The left represents the history of evolutionary planet memory, where change happens over millions of years. The right conveys the idea of “now,” where melting glaciers threaten devastating change. The right hand images taken on top of Patagonia’s Viedma glacier are emblematic of all the melting glaciers I witnessed in the Polar Regions.

I tend to work in series, pursuing an idea to its conclusion. That’s why you see a number of same-sized images displayed together. They are usually clustered around the same concept.

I’m thrilled that his exhibition presented both my practices with the Quartet and four images from my Landsat series representing painting, along with two of my most recent photography projects, Deep Time and the Elegy Series.

Seabed Fossils, Upsala and Viedma Traverse II archival inkjet prints mounted on Dibond, 40" x 60" (source: Burko/Lisica)
Seabed Fossils, Upsala and Viedma Traverse II, D. Burko, archival inkjet prints mounted on Dibond, 40″ x 60″ (source: Burko/Lisica)

Bedrock, Ilulissat Glacier II and Viedma Traverse II, D. Burko, archival inkjet prints mounted on Dibond, 40" x 60" (source: Burko/Lisica)
Bedrock, Ilulissat Glacier II and Viedma Traverse II, D. Burko, archival inkjet prints mounted on Dibond, 40″ x 60″ (source: Burko/Lisica)


GH: Some of your images include maps that show the location of the objects they depict, and some include the sites in their titles. Others lack these identifiers. How do you see these as complementing each other?

DB: My work is about climate change. My goal is to communicate the urgent threat it poses to our environment.  I endeavor to do this through the knowledge I’ve gained studying geology, collaborating with scientists, and bearing witness in the polar regions. I translate all this experience into my language as a painter utilizing various visual devices. Sometimes I introduce a map into painting as a visual prompt, like this one of Greenland which informs but also connects aesthetically with the painting in terms of color, etc.

I always use titles that acknowledge the original source of the image, which can include the date an image was taken and the agency or individual who provided the data.  In my Landsat series (four of which are included in the exhibition), each tile identifies the particular agency (usually NASA) and what you are seeing.

GH: You have shown your work about ice in a number of cities. What has been your experience showing them in Houston, with its warm climate, coastal location, and vulnerability to hurricanes?

DB: I do hope the audience in Houston does make the connection you have! That is one of the reasons I enjoy exhibiting all over the country— and having the chance to speak to the viewers. I understand from my gallerist Cindy Lisica that people were indeed reacting not only to the art but the message it conveyed.  She told me how one patron was showing her friends the recessional lines and explaining what they actually meant.