Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery
January 9 to April 12, 2015
By Helena Wadsley
Collection of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. Photo: Stephen Topfer.
"Blanket Statement #10"
Tom Burrows, "Blanket Statement #10," 1992-93, polymer resin.
Tom Burrows, at 75, is a busy man. With his Vancouver retrospective underway, he was off to Marseilles for an exhibition of photographs, a series he shot from his East Vancouver studio of a street bench in constant use, also included in his retrospective at the University of British Columbia. Called No Sleep, the work documents changes that occurred when dividers were placed on the bench to dissuade people from sleeping there. While Burrows’ work is often spoken about in relation to Russian Constructivism, which emphasized art as social practice, favouring industrial materials and geometric shapes, No Sleep has a more direct reference to social issues, in this case surveillance and homelessness, than the polymer resin works for which he has become known.
"Hematoma Double Brown"
Tom Burrows at the Morris and Hele Belkin Art Gallery.
The polymer pieces are indeed aligned with the Constructivist aesthetic, but Burrows says he now thinks more about capitalism and the inflated value of art, a change from when he started working with polymer in the late ’60s while squatting on the North Vancouver shoreline, a lifestyle that drove much of his work at the time.
An early work in polymer, 1-2-3 (originally from 1965, it was rebuilt in 2005 because the original had dissolved) is a deep blue three-tiered structure; Burrows’ aim was to make a three-dimensional form that appeared flat. He first installed it in the tidal area by his home. Mud Ring (circa 1960s) was made from a metal ring that once held the slats of a large wooden barrel and was also installed nearby. These pieces show his opposing interests in found eroded materials and synthetic resin.
The exhibition includes sculptures that incorporate wordplay, like The Story of Oh (1983), a concrete life preserver, or Organ Transplant (1987), a heart-like form in iron with the words “Man’s Laughter” repeated around its girth. Blanket Statement and Milky Way are polymer wall pieces that also play with puns; the former refers to Hudson’s Bay blankets and colonialism, the latter to his father’s lactose intolerance.
Courtesy of the artist.
"No Sleep (detail)"
Tom Burrows, "No Sleep (detail)," 2006, inkjet print.
One room contains only flat wall pieces in polymer or clay. For six years, Burrows has travelled to a Chinese ceramic workshop where he sprays large flat works with layers of glazes, resulting in eloquent surfaces. As with the polymer surfaces, these appear liquid and luminous. The polymer pieces, because they protrude from the wall by a couple of inches, allow light to filter through from behind, and the uneven pigment distribution creates a softly pulsing surface. This surface tension and the interaction of soft gradations of colour makes the works seem alive and harmonious; stripped down to essentials, they are more meditative than about promoting a social cause.