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.