I just returned from seeing W. Carl Burger: The Urge to Paint at the Morris Museum. The exhibition is almost over – it closes on March 27 – so a review won’t do anyone much good at this point. However, Burger’s work really resonated with me, so I wanted to talk about him anyway.
Burger was born in Germany in 1925 but has lived in New Jersey for most of his life. Although most of the works in the exhibition were painted after 2000, it is clear from the exhibition pamphlet and the earlier works included in the show that Burger has explored many styles and media over his many-decade career. All of them share a similar gestural brushwork and striking use of color that greatly appeals to me. I was most attracted to his numerous paintings of New Jersey settings, such as Turnpike #2, Jersey City (2007) and New Jersey Shore Series: Barnegat (2002). According to Burger himself, “I’m fascinated by the landscapes along the turnpike. I have a real love for New Jersey, which I express through my paintings.” Although the roads, buildings, and industrial structures are partially abstracted, these scenes are still easily recognizable to anyone who has ever driven through the state. More importantly, Burger does an amazing job of capturing the “chaotic bustle” of these places through his vigorous lines that both define forms and dramatically decorate them. If representational art had an equivalent of abstract expressionism, it would be in Burger’s work. (In fact, the exhibition’s wall text said he did belong to that movement at its heyday.) It was very satisfying to see my state, particularly the parts most people don’t particularly enjoy looking at, represented in this expressive and skillful fashion.