Albuquerque-born painter Charlie Burk seeks to portray the wildness of nature. His carefully rendered oil paintings offer viewers the vantage point of looking through tall grasses, as if seeking a way to the fields and forests beyond. He sees his work as “giving viewers who are comfortable with the elements a new way to see and think about what they thought to be familiar.”
Burk, the son of a father who was an architect, sculptor and teacher at the University of New Mexico (UNM), learned to read architectural plans as a junior draftsman and made proposal drawings and architectural renderings for the family business.
In 1965, Burk began the first of two periods of study at UNM. He intended to focus on architecture, but when he found the curriculum not to his liking, he left the university and enlisted in the Navy Reserve. In 1971, he re-enrolled at UNM as a fine arts major and was exposed to a comprehensive curriculum in art history, critical thinking and conceptual art. While there, he chose to paint with watercolors in a realist style, despite the emphasis the art department put on conceptual art practices.
It was in 1990, when Burk partnered in a mural business with a friend and fellow artist, that Burk’s artistic life was liberated and took a much-needed change of direction that ultimately led to his current work. Using big brushes, he started painting on large surfaces with house paint. In 1999, he began working with oils and now paints his large-format abstract landscapes exclusively in oil on panel.
Among the artists who have been most influential in his life, Burk lists the late Elmer Schooley, Jamie Wyeth and Nick Abdalla, an Albuquerque artist and widely admired professor emeritus at UNM. All three have made or currently make images that Burk finds viscerally appealing. He appreciates their use of familiar elements that “elevate their importance through obsessive creativity and introspection.”
When the pandemic hit, Burk responded to the flood of chaotic information by creating a pair of paintings titled Pandemonium 1 and Pandemonium 2. Unlike many of his works in which the viewer can see a way through the grass, these paintings have a dense and almost impenetrable nature to them.
Burk’s work is on view at Canyon Road’s Winterowd Fine Art, which has represented the artist for over sixteen years. “Charlie draws you into his paintings,” says gallery owner Karla Winterowd. “He listens to and feels the earth’s pulse and shows the viewer grasses teeming with life. It’s a refreshing view of our natural world.”
Winterowd Fine Art worked with Burk to produce Charlie Burk: Journey in Abstraction, a book about his work. It is available at the gallery or through their website, fineartsantafe.com.
Charlie Burk has been avidly painting grasses for more than forty years.
Kevin Paul is a multimedia artist with a penchant for running trails. He is a long-time resident of Albuquerque’s South Valley, where he and his wife, Kayla, watch migrating birds and tend their garden and orchard. He has spent many years in and around the Santa Fe art scene.