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REVIEW: Rory Burke Revisits Mortality Through Ghost White China Sculptures

Nov. 20, 2012
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Decay, debris, mortality: These words define the concepts sculptor Rory Burke explores at Brookfield’s Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts in the her exhibition “Finite Differences.”

In the past five years since Burke exploded on Milwaukee’s art scene, her skulls, heads and busts have turned the heads and minds of viewers on end. Through Burke’s now expanded scale, seen here at the Wilson Center, her rough visages appear eerily as ghostly apparitions from another era.

One wall in the upper level Ploch Art Gallery displays nine fragmented, massive skulls inspired from a trip to a Cambodian temple titled Speak No Evil, constructed from vitreous china and Kohler glazes. The half heads allude to stacked stones seen in the sacred site, where pieces remain missing similar to those lost in the wars, irreplaceable.  War casualties somehow taken for granted in contemporary society, now merely numbers on a list. The provocative sculpture sends shivers up and down the spine, as does another piece on loan from the John Michael Kohler Arts collection.

This large floor sculpture Irreverence and Relocation heaps multiple, distorted skulls on a whitewashed metal and wood gurney. This painful pile of bone like materials reminds one of the pictures seen in the National Holocaust Museum, although Burke was triggered by a visit to the Paris Catacombs, where the bodies were relocated from other graves, where remnants of human beings lay in disarray.

Burke’s imaginative and sleek Fingerprint Birdbaths divert the viewer to another direction, legacy and the living.  Each bowl was imprinted with the ivory whorl from a human fingerprint that circles around the matte black basin. One piece incorporates a totem placed in the center of the bowl made from five disfigured skulls, all shaped in translucent gray glass rising above the basin, tiny birds perched on the basin's edges. This sculptural lawn ornament contrasts the decrepit skull(s) with the delicate china birds that invite living organisms to drink, quench the thirst from daily life, and almost perverse dichotomy. 

Another entire gallery wall features Burke's 20 prints named Finite Differences, a series of collagraphs and digital prints with mixed media, that are being sold as a fundraiser for the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design. Her evocative heads seem to roll and toss on the paper, the colors distinctly developing moods and reflections in the viewer’s imagination.  In the same gallery in the center of the room, Burke fashioned a toilet bowl to inventively cast a hooded monk she named St. Francis of Kohler, complete with an outstretched arm where a bird alights on his palm.

Her multiple heads en mass placed on pedestals still fascinate, their resin tops glowing similar to light through a magical prism. While each face could be scrutinized, one near the front displays a soft lavender rose beneath the translucent skull, the bloom appearing petrified in the brain, still living, with the face's cheeks stratified in jeweled colors of amethysts, iolite and sapphires. The striking differences between the royal colors and raw emotion mesmerize.

Burke’s exquisite, must see exhibition explores uncharted depths in her casting techniques and sculptural  capabilities. Fresh, expanded personal adventures fuel her intelligent development of decay, mortality and the human beings unmovable finite existence in this world that lapses into disintegration over time. While Burke illuminates decay and ruin from an aesthetic perspective, ghostly apparitions from the universal  human condition, Burke’s talents culminate in an incredible ascension into otherworldly realms.

The Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts presents “Rory Burke: Finite Differences” through December 21.  Milwaukee's Elaine Erickson Gallery also represents Burke. For hours and further information: www.wilson-center.com



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