The Bling of J.T. Burke
Last week, I had the pleasure of working with artist J.T. Burke, at his booth at the new art fair, the Artist Project. The fair itself is a newer concept, one of unrepresented artists, rather than booths curated by galleries. Upstairs from the Architectural Digest Home Show at Pier 94, the Artist Project was much more relaxed than the extremely chaotic show below.
Upstairs, the mood was mellow (aside from the open bar day), but sometimes bordered on melancholy. As I walked through the aisles each day, many artists looked at passersby with puppy dog eyes, as if they were at a highschool dance, mentally pleading to be plucked from their wallflower status and onto the dance floor.
J.T. and his wife Lorraine were the exception. Having many years of experience in the photography world, first as food photographer and stylist (respectively), then owning a large stock photography company, the pair had the go-gettum business attitude that artists often lack, (but really shouldn’t).
At first glance, Jeff’s work is…. confusing. At the art fair, I greeted most furrowed brows and confused faces with , “So, I take it you’re wondering what you are looking at.” Was it painting they asked? Pastel? Colored pencil? In fact, J.T.’s work is a none of the above, but the ultra-modern photography based digital collage. I feel that users of Photoshop and other digital imaging programs have finally reached the perfecting point in which they can be used in the same realm as a brush to painting or clay to sculpture. They have been around long enough to enable mastering, fine tuning, and artistic control. Sure, there are still an over abundance of works that look fake as shit, aka obviously digital, but there are a few masters of the craft that honed and manipulated the software to do their bidding. And being that he has been using Photoshop since its inception, J.T. is one of them.
J.T.’s process begins with an incredible (and drool-worthy) collection of vintage costume jewelry- obscure and blingy brooches, necklaces, rings and pillboxes- that I’d give my right arm for. (ok that would mean five less rings and one less bracelet I could wear, so many some useless body part). He photographs each piece individually, and loads it immediately into Photoshop. Then comes the tedious process of collage that can take anywhere from a few days to a few months. Using his Adobe toolset, every single element of his compositions derive from jewelry. Patterns, faces, backgrounds, and textures are created, ghosted, and blended. Each file can be hundreds and hundreds of meticulous layers, sometimes taking 15 minutes to a half hour to even save.
Due to his mastery of both lighting and the software, the resulting images are glossy, decadent and posses a dimensionality not usual to a Photoshop collage. And surprisingly, most people can’t believe the source is jewelry. His compositions range from glitzy Rorschach looking masks to narrative scenes, and let us not forget the bloody-toothed rabbit pin that takes center stage in his largest piece, “ Big Opening Number.” Ornate frames are just as important to him as the pieces themselves, as J.T. uses them as an extension of his pieces.
I haven’t seen anything quite like it. Without devaluing his work, it is both decorative and cerebral, without delving too far into the conceptual process. J.T. sees the glass half full, choosing to use his craft to portray positive and beautiful scenes that incite happiness, rather than dwell on the darker side of life. (cue Monty Python song here)