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Onward and Upward 

Deborah Burke's prints and fabric work

Local artist Deborah Burke's current show of silkscreened prints and fabric wall hangings at the Upstairs Art Gallery in Arcata, aptly titled "Progression," exemplifies the movement and change in her work over the last 25 years. The progression is marked not just by stylistic changes, but by a dramatic shift in medium in her most recent work.

Burke agreed to exhibit her work again after many years as a result of prodding by longtime friend and gallery owner Suk Choo Kim. Despite some initial apprehension, Burke said she's grateful for the push. "Because of Suk Choo asking me to do this show, it got me working again. He was mad at me because he said [I wasn't] doing artwork anymore," Burke explained. "I said, 'Oh, I don't want to have a show, everything is so old,' and he said, 'No, you need to do it. You need to do it!'" Eventually, Kim's persistence paid off and Burke agreed to do the show. "I'm working again, so it's nice. ... I'm happy with it," Burke said.

The earliest prints on display are of magnified flowers. "I always liked to magnify things. Georgia O'Keeffe was a big inspiration when I was younger," declared Burke. The colors are brighter in these earlier examples than in Burke's later prints, but, despite being representational pieces, an interest in abstraction is evident. Burke noted that she was drawn to the fact that magnifying the flowers abstracted them to a certain degree.

Later prints focus on color, shape and shadow. While still representational, Burke's depictions of everyday images in these later prints focus on patterns and abstract shapes that are present but often overlooked: The shape of a doorway or cast shadows become focal points in these compositions. The more subdued palette of the later prints (almost Hopper-esque at times) intensifies the moments of bright color that do occasionally occur and draw attention to the abstract shapes and patterns in the work. 

While Burke still likes her earlier work, she is more excited about where that earlier work has led. Her most recent pieces are art-quilts and fabric wall hangings. "There are so many possibilities with fabric and what you can do," exclaimed Burke. The move to fabric happened about 10 years ago, around the time that the addition of an African Grey Parrot in her studio made working with oil-based inks impractical. "It's pretty toxic -- the chemicals -- I just kind of got tired of the mechanics of it," said Burke. Soon after, a shopping outing led to an epiphany. "A friend and I went to a fabric store and it was just one of those moments. ... I thought, 'I want to get into doing something with fabric.' I saw all these art-quilts and I thought, 'Wow, this is what I could do!' It just felt right," Burke recalled.

Since then, Burke has been going to fabric shows (some as far away as Barcelona) collecting material to incorporate in her work. Burke's fabric work ranges from traditional-looking quilts to newer pieces that explore the idea of creating "paintings" with fabric. Color, shape and pattern have always been her central concerns, so the progression to quilts and fabric makes sense. In her most recent fabric work, she is dealing with those original, central concerns almost exclusively. "I had nothing in mind but color and placement. It's much more freeing," said Burke. The palette is bolder than in most of her prints and the abstraction she explored in her earlier work taken over completely. "Hopefully, my next show is going to be all about fabric," she said.

Deborah Burke's prints and fabric work are currently on display at the Upstairs Art Gallery inside Umpqua Bank (1063 G St., Arcata) and will be up until the end of August. A reception for the artist will be held in conjunction with Arts! Arcata on Friday, Aug. 10, starting at 6 p.m.

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Jason Marak

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