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ARTICLE BY MARK DUNN

On 'The Next Work' with Michael Burtch

By Mark Dunn

You are, and you've got to prove it... you are and it's a collective of proofs, like rocks to build a cairn with; and what if you are in the end not yourself, but the proofs?

Artists are largely misunderstood creatures. they whittle away, shaping bone and stone and wood into recognizable shapes. they splash pain across canvases. They build things which serve no practical purpose. And we wonder why they do what they do. And we marvel at their creations.

All that we have learned about human history has been handed down to us by artists. The Dorsets, ancestors of the Inuit who lived in the artic circle for hundreds of years gave us ivory carvings to remember them by. the cave dwellers of ancient Europe painted fabulous forms on stone by torch light during the most recent ice age. The Native Americans left us cities and temples and pottery to to remind us that our time here is limited.

There are a few examples of the human need to create apparently useless objects that say, simply, "I was here, and this is what I am."

Luckily for us, this need to create, to arrange and manipulate objects into recognizable forms is not just a practice of our ancestors, the practice continues to this day. One of the functions of the artist is to find ones ways of telling the same old story, to modernize ancient ideas and archetypes to bring the entirety of the human experience into the modern world.

Sculptor Michael Burtch uses rough, industrial materials such as cement and fiberglass to create graceful human form.

"The human figure," he says "has such a long history of representation, going back to the cave art of the Paleolithic Period. It is easy, with that kind of history, to fall in to conventions and stereotypes."

Burtch describes his continuing development as an artist as "a search to find something in the human form that is personally relevant, influenced by tradition but modern."

The forms Michael creates are haunting and other-worldly. One is simultaneously drawn by the beauty of the figures, and yet repelled by their strangeness. They are characters from dreams and nightmares brought into this world in three dimensional form and frozen in their most vulnerable moments.

These sculptures of fiberglass and cement remind the viewer of the huddling, fossilized forms of Pompeii, the city in southern Italy that was swallowed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in the first century A.D., where bodies evaporated from the heat of molten rock and left perfect molds behind.

His work is not a study of human anatomy. He uses the body to represent mental and spiritual states. Odd physical gestures and postures hint at the internal world of the person, as if the human body is an expression of the soul.

Michael Burtch is a widely-known and respected resident of Sault Ste. Marie. He is the curator of the Art Gallery of Algoma, has been since 1981. He is also an instructor at algoma University, where he teaches Art History. Our city is fortunate to have three landmarks designed and built by Mr. Burtch; in the downtown westside, at the corner of Gore and Queen Streets; on the boardwalk near the station Mall, and the most recent additions behind the General Hospital.

These three pieces, when observed from West to East serve as a model of an artist's development.

"If I didn't do, I wouldn't be," says Michael Burtch referring to the range of his activities, " I tell my students to accept the fact that your best work is always going to be your next work. That's what pushes me.

Good advice.
Written by Mark Dunn