CS Coates & Scarry

JT Burke: Perpetuating the Myth of Paradise

Q: Tell us a little about yourself?I'm a former advertising photographer who used to make pictures of food that were mostly beautiful lies. I was quite good at it, but got tired of being a photo monkey. Twenty years of executing art directors' layouts was enough, so a few years ago my wife and I quit the business and began making our own art. Now I use my digital skills to conjure up visions of a strange Utopia. It's a lot more satisfying than endlessly cranking out perfect Pizza Hut pies for the ad agency.

Q: Tell us about your working method?It's pretty involved. I begin by collecting lots of old and antique jewelry at flea markets and antique sales. Back in my studio I photograph each piece on a white background and add it to a digital database of elements. That's the hard work, then the fun begins. I start each digital composition by selecting one or two of the jewelry elements and bring them into Photoshop and let my imagination wander. Sometimes I know where I'm going with the composition, other times it's complete trial and error. The files can get quite large and take a long time to complete, some as long as six weeks. The problem is knowing when the work is done.

Q: Why photography?It's what I know and do well, but I don't consider the end product to be photography, per se. It's much more like painting, and I'm trying to develop painterly techniques and discipline.

Q: Why jewelry?I began my last series using other elements, like leaves and flowers and odd machine parts. The first time that I used a single piece of jewelry it struck me that blingy pins and baubles offered unique visual opportunities. After I had been working on the series for a while I realized that jewelry, a man-made element of beauty, was the perfect metaphor for Paradise, the ultimate Man-made beauty. It all seemed to fit together.

JT Burke talking about his art (Photo by Marten Rostel)

Q: Have you always scanned flea markets, jumble sales and antique shops for pieces of jeweler?I've always been a pack rat and collector of odd items, but I knew nothing about jewelry before this series. Honestly, I still don't know much about it.

Q: You have just had three shows, one in California, one in Barcelona and one in Bristol UK. How was it co-coordinating these shows?I love showing the work and meeting people, but this tour has been quite a challenging logistical exercise. I have a strong business side to my brain so I get really involved with the planning and the details, but it's kept me away from creative work for a couple of months now. All of which means that I'm eager to get back into the studio and start making some new pics.

Q: Has the art been received differently in these different locations?Actually, I've noticed a pretty universal sense of wonder and awe everywhere that I've shown the work. Most people don't really understand what it is that they're seeing when they first look at the work. "Is it painting or photography?" is the usually the first thing out of their mouths.

Q: The title of your body of work is called ‘Beautiful Again’, why?It's about beautiful objects that get old and are abandoned, and then found and reborn in another dimension.  Sort of like the concept of Paradise.

Q: We heard on the ‘Art Vine’ that you collect art. What sort of art and which artist do you like/collect?My wife and I only collect things that we can live with every day. We gravitate towards more classical and immortal art in our home, like a Salvador Dali print from the Biblia Sacre series and a wonderful Sylvia Ji piece titled "Lady of Guadalupe." In our beach house we prefer more colorful, contemporary works like "The Magnificent Seven" silkscreen by Russell Young and a lot of contemporary art that we've picked up at Corey Helford Gallery. We have a real range of stuff in our studio offices, including works by Hung Lei, Ruud Van Empel, Gary Baseman and Shepard Fairey. We've noticed the sculptures of Laurie Hassold over the past couple of years, and just recently met her. I'm after one of her Alien-esque pieces for my office.

Q: How do you think art makes an impact?It's hard to ignore images that have an emotional draw. When you connect with a piece, and it ends up in your home, it affects your life for years to come. Unlike advertising images that are ephemeral and fleeting, artworks tend to have a lasting impact. At least I hope that mine will.

Q: Do you work in any other mediums?I like to cut wood and arc weld steel, but mostly as a release from hours in front of the computer screen. Otherwise I stick with the digital tools that I know well.

Q: I hear you like English music. Tell us more?I can't tell you how many nights my wife and I have fallen asleep listening to the soulful voice of Portishead’s Beth Gibbon singing Glory Box, the last tune on the album. One of my favorite all-time groups is Lamb, which never seemed to catch on in the US, but I still listen them a lot while I work. And we just saw Massive Attack at the Wiltern in LA, and are going to see them and Thievery Corporation in Santa Barbara next month.

Q: Surprise us?Uhhh.... For more info on JT Burke click here For purchasing information goto


Richard, Chippy, JT Burke, Albany and Greg (Photo by Marten Rostel)

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