Brad Burkhart

Burkhart's picture
Group Affiliation: Randall Museum

Brad Burkhart was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1949. He attended Kalamazoo College in western Michigan, where he graduated with a major in art and a minor in physics. He later received degrees in landscape architecture and horticulture. As an undergraduate, the artist traveled extensively in Europe and was profoundly impressed by Renaissance and medieval artists. He was struck by the change of human consciousness from one of spiritual orientation to one of intellectual orientation. More recently he has been influenced by the writings of Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, Leonard Schlain (Art and Physics, The Goddess and the Alphabet), Suzi Gablik (Has Modernism Failed?), and Riane Eisler (The Blade and the Chalice) which attempt to address the reintegration of intuition with rationality. In addition to art, the artist has a persevering interest in the relationship of nature/ecology which led him to a study of horticulture and landscape design as well as art. These interests led him to become a leader in native habitat restoration in Southern California until he began focusing exclusively on this art work in 2012. His art and landscape work, both address the deep sense of alienation from self and nature which exists today.

Approach & Influences
A Focus on Intuition
I have chosen to develop a style of artistic expression with little precedent in modern aesthetic vernacular. I ignore the belief of the human being divided into mind & body, or of the as separate from nature. I am convinced that there is a need for humans at present to move beyond a dualistic relationship with reality and self.
To find meaning, I reach beyond the sources of the conscious, commenting, language-oriented mind to the intuitive part of the psyche. I draw inspiration from older spiritual/mythic/archetypal/religious expression: e.g., Indian & Indonesian, tribal, elements of Greek/Roman mythic works, and Renaissance artists. But, I have not tried to copy them but have chosen instead to create my own intuitive artistic expression which similarly gropes for meaning in a future, as yet unseen, where internal reconciliation of both the individual and his world is possible.
Intuitive Sketching Leading to Clay Relief Images
My approach to creating art work is an expression of this artistic philosophy. I begin with pencil drawings created on paper by a process which can only be called “automatic drawing.” Initial non-rationally created random lines generate images which are then compositionally refined into a final sketch image. The 2-dimensional sketches are then translated into 3-dimensional clay bas-relief sculpture panels. Iron oxide in varying thicknesses is applied before firing to add the pencil shading from the sketches. Reduction firing further highlights the color distinctions.
The original inspiration for these panels was Ghiberti’s bas relief panels depicting scenes from the Bible on the “Golden Doors” of the Baptistery in Florence, Italy, which I had seen as a student. Like the door panels, my panels are aimed at inspiration for the integration of the human spirit; yet, unlike the more traditionally religious imagery of the doors whose stories we already known from the Bible, the imagery of my panels draws from a wider range of mythical sources some recognizable from other spiritual traditions and others needing to be interpreted. It is my conviction that the imagery in my works provide openings into a different mode of relating to reality which we have lost but which needs to be recreated and used guide our modern circumstance. With these panels I both express prehistory while at the same time generating inspiration for future appropriate actions.The final works seem more compatible with a spiritual space than with a gallery. It is this experience which I am most committed to in my art and which I feel lies at the source of renewal for our present art and culture. 
Social Grounding: The Naming Process
The images in each finished sculpture are at first confusing. They appear to portray scenes with beings that do not exist in the “real” world. The “story” each panel tells is deeply affecting, and a piece often generates strong and sometimes contradictory responses as viewers grapple to understand it. I have found through experiment that the best way to get at the meaning of each piece’s story is through a group consensus process where participants challenge each other to come up with the name of the story together.I call this process to find the meaning in each work the “naming process”. I organize groups of 6-10 people from as diverse backgrounds as I can find and then orchestrate a dialogue on the meaning of the story in each piece. We talk until someone comes up with an idea that everyone agrees to. I was surprised that such consensus was possible when I began the process, since it goes against our present notion that art does not have objective meaning.
It is my experience that these stories, once understood, often provide openings into a different and more integrated way of finding out truth about our world which has atrophied during the Age of Reason; but, which needs to be revalidated to make our lives meaningful again in the world of “facts” science has bequeathed us. Significantly in these times of much division, when a name is given to a piece out of group consensus, the process creates community not mere opinion. This is the true basis of culture.
Thus one is called by the panels to return to something known but forgotten, not to pass judgment on the development of aesthetic elements (color, line, form);;but rather to discern the meaning the images bring to us from our common connections with one another, our past, and our future. They have the potential to create meaning for the viewer that may change the way he lives his life or inform better solutions to the challenges of the society he lives in..It is this experience which I am most committed to in my art and which I feel lies at the source of renewal for our present art and culture.