Jessica Burko: QUIET/LOUD

By: Liz Lee

Magic spells and hopeful wishes do battle with the relentlessness of time in Jessica Burko’s Quiet/Loud, a series of photographic images transferred onto wood and muted under an encaustic haze. At the heart of the works are Burko’s self-portraits, blurred depictions of a woman in frenzied motion, quieted by thick layers of wax.

In Just then the spell was broken, one such image of the artist is juxtaposed with a set of 16 tally marks—the sort you’d imagine scratched into a prison cell wall. The resulting piece manages to take on an almost ecstatic quality despite the darkness of its individual parts. Other self-portraits bend towards the wistful and contemplative, as in Once…, where the artist’s portrait is paired with six lines of hand scrawled script reading “Once upon a time” over and over again, calling to mind a child’s penmanship exercise.

Elsewhere, themes of personal identity, family and motherhood pervade, with alternating currents of turbulence and groundedness. Quiet is a series of 21 small rectangular self-portraits, in which a different children’s building block literally blocks the artist’s open mouth. Playful images engraved into the blocks–a bird, an apple, a television—belie the sense of suffocation that is central to each piece. In Family, the artist switches gears, reminding us with an encaustic silhouette of four strong, scrappy pine trees that kinship can also be a source of peacefulness and security.

Images of wishing bones also feature prominently in the exhibition. Two From One and Six Wishes command attention both for their size, at 54 x 11 ½” each, and for their bright intimation of possibility. My Two Wishes and Hold On are encaustic photo transfers of wishbones as well, this time with a sense less of hope and more of desperation and melancholy. The entire series calls to mind the Japanese phrase “mono no aware”—meaning literally “the pathos of things,” but also sometimes translated as “a sensitivity to ephemera.” Like bird bones, wishes and childhood, the joys—and difficulties—of parenthood are fleeting and ephemeral as well.

Image: Jessica Burko, Just then the spell was broken, 2016, image transfer with encaustic and oil paint on reclaimed wood, chalk text on wall, 44 x 36”. Courtesy ArtProv Gallery.

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