David Burke Art Is Both Beautiful and Grotesque

David Burke brings thrilling yet chilling elements to his pieces.


More of the artist’s work can be seen at www.DBurke.org. He can be reached at david@dburke.org.

Painting by David Burke

David Burke was sick, and the 6-year-old was not happy about a trip to Kaiser Hospital in Oakland. That’s when he saw a giraffe, specifically Giraphics (1984), the life-size mural painted by Dan Fontes under Interstate 580 at Harrison Street. “That was the beginning of this fascination with large-scale painting,” Burke said, 30-plus years later.

Born and raised in Alameda, Burke moved to Oakland seven years ago but maintains close ties to his hometown. That includes teaching in the Bridge Program he co-founded for emerging artists at Autobody Fine Art, where he maintained a studio for two years and with whom he exhibited his large acrylic-ink-on-Mylar paintings at the prestigious Art Basel in Miami this year. “I got my first taste of what art really was when I took a beginning art class from Charmaine Pearson at Alameda High School,” he said. “It’s really important to me to contribute to the conversation of what art-making is in Alameda.”

A stint as a visiting lecturer at Chiang Mai University in Thailand had a profound effect upon his work. “There’s this connection with nature there that I’d never experienced before,” he said. The result: industrial images like factory schematics that resolve the “opacity to them and mystery as to what goes on inside” and the dissolving structures of his Pump and Dump Prosperity series, questioning their perceived stability. New work focuses on agribusiness, and the joke’s on us, with laughing pig heads referencing the ancient fraud in which cat and dog meat was sold as pork, hence the expressions “a pig in a poke” and “let the cat out of the bag.” Fast forward a millennium, and 3D imaging “can print everything from a firearm to food,” Burke said. “During this process there are mishaps or missteps or mistakes,” giving birth to his painting of a chimerical creature cobbled together from meat products.

Burke’s shimmering, quasi-Buddhist paintings in which factories are organic, animals are man-made, and nothing lasts forever are at once striking and chilling. “I like to find that balance,” he said. “That line between something that’s beautiful and grotesque.”

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