Tuesday, November 13, 2012

“Life is constantly changing. You can wallow in the clichés or adapt.”

by Diane Reilly

As Art Saint Louis adapted its space once again to present a new exhibit, "Art St. Louis XXVIII, The Exhibition," a certain name jumped out to me from  the list of accepted artists. Jim, or Professor Burwinkel to me, has an artwork in the exhibit—his first public showing since he was in the 8th grade. Intrigued, I plunged in to find out more about a former professor of mine. On a recent rainy Monday morning, Jim Burwinkel and I were able to meet in a warm St. Louis café and he shared his frame of mind with me about how he balances his roles in the theater, the studio and the classroom.

Jim Burwinkel. "My Other Brother Darryl." 2012. Wood, Wax, 16”x46”x18”.

Diane: What is the focus of your set design work as opposed to your creations in the studio?

Jim: “Theater approaches the idea of functionality with interpretation, it’s ephemeral, it happens for a couple hours a night. Five or six weeks later, your design is gone, and you try something different with the next one. Not really new, but I concentrate on creating an environment instead of picture. The focus becomes a lot more about space. Build upon the character and the context in the spatial environment; my work guides and directs interactions, helps the story line come along. Theater is very elaborate, has more to do with helping tell a story. I bring my own personal experiences to that process when designing, but between the script and director what ends up on stage is a product of the story, an outside me. I own it since it’s something I care about and created, but it’s not anywhere near the same kind of output as working in the studio, freely trying to tell something that is truly you.”

Jim Burwinkel. "Phi." 2012. Acrylic on Cast Plaster, 24”x15”x1.25”.

Diane: How has the studio shaped your current story?

Jim: “Having the confidence finally that what you have to say is something worthwhile for others to come experience. For me, the hardest part of any piece is coming up with what you want to say. Surface and materials interest me. Bricks are fascinating. The clay that makes them up then the different weather and conditions that surround them make each surface different. I want the audience to really analyze surface when they look at my pieces. For me, it is a kind of a process of figuring out what the material is and what I want to do with it. It’s an idea I’ve kept with me for several years. Painting is a lot about surface, taking a material and applying it. I then manipulate the surface. Plaster absorbs at different rates/properties. So I started applying simple colors and abusing the surface a little to bring in the properties of plaster. It absorbs only a small amount and picks up marks quite easily. After a lot of layers, I created an experience for the audience to share when they see the piece. They get a little closer to the idea of what the surface of plaster is.”

Jim Burwinkel. "Suburbia." 2012. Wood, Wax, Graphite, 63”x8”x6.5”.

Diane: How does your role as a professor play into all of this?

Jim: “I was in administration for ten years, it was exhausting. No time. When your hand spends all day writing, hard to convert that into drawing afterwards. Stepping away has allowed me to be a little more focused again on my art. Things I do simultaneously. Negotiate professor and artist, part of the gig. Not being an administrator lets me forget about all these outside things; simplify back to my art, my students, and so forth. For the time being, this is very satisfying. I am going on sabbatical in the spring and will really develop a project working with texture and light, something similar to an assignment I give my students every semester.”

Jim Burwinkel. "Divide." 2012. Acrylic on Cast Plaster, 13”x13”x2”. This artwork is currently on view in "Art St. Louis XXVIII, The Exhibition" at Art Saint Louis (through December 27, 2012).

Diane: Any parting words?

Jim: “I have two major pieces of advice I tell all of my students. First, food is not just a hobby. Oftentimes people lose sight of how important it is to choose food that enriches your body, not whatever is most convenient. Second, if it were easy, it wouldn’t be fun. The easiest pathway will not necessarily bring you enlightenment. It is well worth expending the extra effort to take something to the next level or incorporate a new idea into a project than sitting around and taking it easy. Boils down to simple choices we make every day.”


"Art St. Louis XXVIII, The Exhibition" is presented at Art Saint Louis October 29-December 27,  2012. Gallery is free & open to the public M & Sat. 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Tu-Fr 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Closed Sundays & holidays, including Thanksgiving & Thanksgiving weekend, Christmas Eve & Christmas Day. Art Saint Louis is located at 555 Washington Avenue, #150, St. Louis, MO. 314/241-4810. www.artstlouis.org


Diane Reilly is currently serving as Fall 2012 Intern at Art Saint Louis. Diane is a Junior at Saint Louis University with a double major in Marketing and Communications Design.

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