Q&A with fine artist and illustrator Marc Burckhardt, focuses on historical symbolism with contemporary themes.

"I certainly agree with Coltrane: I define my life experience best through my painting, and I feel it's a gift I have an obligation to. As for the meaning of life, I think we all spend ours' considering that question, and I doubt anyone has come up with a wholly satisfying answer. But making art is the closest I've come to fulfilling what I think I'm here to do."

Marc Burckhardt: Visual (Artist) Storyteller

Marc Burckhardt is an American fine artist and illustrator. Burckhardt's work focuses on historical symbolism with contemporary themes. He uses a mix of both oil and acrylic paints in a modern variation of the Old Masters techniques of monochromatic underpainting and color glazing, often using wood panels. Burckhardt is additionally known for combining some paintings with pressed metal facades, historically known as rizas or oklads, forming elaborate patterns in the metal to create a jacket-like patterned covering. Marc Burckhardt’s paintings have been commissioned by "Time," "Rolling Stone," "The New York Times," Major League Baseball, Porsche and Random House. His gallery work includes exhibitions at the Experience Music Project Museum, Art Basel (Switzerland and Miami), Mendenhall Sobieski and Bash Contemporary.

(Marc Burckhardt / Photo © by Shayan Asgharnia)

Burckhardt was president of the Illustration Conference (Icon) and chairman of the New York Society of Illustrators’ 47th Annual. In 2011, he created the official portraits for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremonies, and his paintings have been in the collections of Ralph Lauren, Oprah Winfrey and Johnny Cash. A recipient of the prestigious Hamilton King Award, he has also won Gold and Silver medals from Cannes Lions and the Society of Illustrators and a Grammy for packaging. A former instructor at the School of Visual Arts and Texas State University, Burckhardt was named Texas State Artist in 2010 by the Texas Commission on the Arts.

Interview by Michael Limnios          Artworks © by Marc Burckhardt

How has art and music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

I've often said I've never met a child that didn't like to draw, I was just one of those few who didn't stop. In that way, I think art and music were less influences than prisms for understanding experience. But the actual physical journeys, the places and the people I've met, those truly opened up the world to me. It's the greatest gift I've had in life, and profoundly influenced the art I make.

How do you describe your artwork philosophy? Where does your creative drive come from?

I describe myself as a storyteller, and if I have a philosophy, it's that we share a common visual language that can be used to describe our common experience. I think an artist of any kind can't help but approach their work from a personal perspective, but a good story is one we can all relate to in some way. The drive to tell it is something most artists would admit comes from some mysterious place inside. The world certainly isn't begging for more artists, though I think it could use them!

"I've often said I've never met a child that didn't like to draw, I was just one of those few who didn't stop. In that way, I think art and music were less influences than prisms for understanding experience. But the actual physical journeys, the places and the people I've met, those truly opened up the world to me. It's the greatest gift I've had in life, and profoundly influenced the art I make." (Robert Johnson & Johnny Cash / Artwork © by Marc Burckhardt)

What do you love most about the act of painting? What do you hope people take away from your artwork?

What I paint, and how I paint it, are almost diametrically opposed experiences. The content I choose, while not necessarily developed in a traditional intellectual process--there's always the element of surprise--requires deep thought and often some stage of frustration; the "why" of an image is critical for me. The execution, on the other hand, is instinctive and almost meditative, like a reward for the struggle that precedes it.

What moment changed your life the most? What´s been the highlights in your life and career so far?

I don't think there was a "moment" or single event that's defined my life or work--in fact, I think that might be a terrible trap for a creative person to fall into. Persistence/obsession, like the steady drip of water on a stone, makes change happen and new shapes form. And of course incredible luck: the most amazing things in life were never those I planned!

What is the impact of your art or the socio-cultural implications? How do you want your art to affect people?

My simplest hope is to engage the viewer visually, to pull them in to my stories through a familiar beauty--then surprise them with the unexpected. My work definitely has an autobiographical foundation, but the themes I deal with are also universal, and address the world we share. I have my own goals in making art, but the impact isn't for the artist to determine. It's what happens between the image and the viewer that defines that.

"I describe myself as a storyteller, and if I have a philosophy, it's that we share a common visual language that can be used to describe our common experience. I think an artist of any kind can't help but approach their work from a personal perspective, but a good story is one we can all relate to in some way. The drive to tell it is something most artists would admit comes from some mysterious place inside. The world certainly isn't begging for more artists, though I think it could use them!" (Willie Nelson & Blind Willie Johnson / Artwork © by Marc Burckhardt)

What touched you from Willie Nelson and Gabriel Garcia Marquez? What would you like to ask Robert Johnson and Dante?

All these artists are/were first & foremost human: full of flaws and weakness as well as enormous gifts. It's their ability to express the human condition, and do so in a way that is/was divine, that touches anyone who encounters their work. I'm don't think there's a question I could ask that would come close to the answers they've already given, but it's been a tremendous honor to respond to their art with my own.

John Coltrane said "My art is the spiritual expression of what I am...". How do you understand the spirit, art, and the meaning of life?

I certainly agree with Coltrane: I define my life experience best through my painting, and I feel it's a gift I have an obligation to. As for the meaning of life, I think we all spend ours' considering that question, and I doubt anyone has come up with a wholly satisfying answer. But making art is the closest I've come to fulfilling what I think I'm here to do.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

I'd love to be transported to the studio of almost any Old Master, not so much for the insight in to their particular genius but rather to observe the apprenticeship that once was fundamental to artistic training: the simple but diligent work that went in to making things, and learning and riffing on the visual vocabulary through common rigor. Think of the volume of art alone that was created, before modern illumination was ever devised! You'd get a lot out of that one day with your Time Machine!

Marc Burckhardt - Home

(Dr. John & Neil Young / Artwork © by Marc Burckhardt)

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