"Point after Point"
Drew Burnham, "Point after Point," 2005, oil on canvas, 36" x 36".
DREW BURNHAM, Coastal
Bau-Xi Gallery, Vancouver
Aug 9 – 27, 2005
By Ann Rosenberg
At the height of the minimalist and conceptual art movements, some artists who had previously brushed paint onto canvas in texture-rich, personal strokes began to apply paints with hardware store rollers to make a neutral, impersonal effect. Following the dictates of the time, many artists abandoned hand-wrought representations in favour of photographs and words. The good news is that painting — which appeared to be dead 30 years ago — is experiencing a remarkable resurrection.
Drew Burnham’s Coastal at the Bau-Xi in Vancouver features scenes by an artist who, while paying homage to his forebears, manages nevertheless to create works that are personal and quite original.
In Stanley Park Statues, giant trees and over-sized ferns move in from the left as if to stalk and ultimately devour the trembling English Bay highrises depicted to the right in this four-part mural. When viewing it, Emily Carr’s Rushing Sea of Undergrowth leaps to mind. In addition, many of the cedars in Burnham’s painting appear to have been inspired by the Modernist firs Carr used to render. On the other hand, the simplified deciduous trees in the foreground which resemble single magnified leaves may, along with the simplified logs that line the shore, be evidence of the influence of Toni Onley who was one of Burnham’s teachers. But Onley would never include such a brightly coloured motif that was so deliberately out of harmony and scale with other elements.
Stanley Park Statues reflects the artist’s desire to catch nature’s forces fighting with each other for position and even for existence in the symbiotic world of water and woods. The ferocity of the struggle and the fragility of the balance is present in paintings that communicate a contemporary, ecology-informed philosophy that brings an old theme up to date.
The majority of the oils in Coastal grow out of the artist’s joy in the seas and lakes, the cottages and boats that are places for pleasure, shelter and work in BC’s great outdoors. Brilliant colours predominate and the precisionist style of E.J. Hughes is recalled in many works. This judgment, however, may be erroneous as Burnham enjoys mixing his painting styles as much as he does the scale of motifs. And not all landscapes can be appreciated in the same way up close as at some distance.
Burnham’s Point After Point is a view of a rocky cove in the Pacific where waves roll onto the shore. From across the room, the scene looks as solid as a finely tuned representational painting along the style of one of Group of Seven painter Arthur Lismer’s finished sketches. From within three feet of the canvas, the image virtually deconstructs into an explosion of juicy filaments that almost unravel the semblance of reality. Perhaps this work best demonstrates what Burnham means when he says that, for him, the first brushstroke sets the timing and all that follow carry the tune. The conductor who orchestrated the vision in Point After Point is one tour de force painter.