“I’m about making things, not the image or pure expression,” says sculptor, Karl Burkheimer. Burkheimer thinks of the large-scale sculptures he builds primarily of wood as being the “residue of the process” of their making. That may be, but to say as much might be misleading, drastically understating the impact of Burkheimer’s impeccably crafted works whose aesthetic is always elegantly resolved. Most recently, this “residue” was “In Site,” a nearly room-filling platform in the expansive space of North Portland’s Disjecta that sloped gently upward and had a large circular hold in its center. Burkheimer says he asks, “What does the space need?” not, “What am I expressing?” By building at that scale in that space Burkheimer challenged the viewer to touch the art, there was almost no other option as it both offered little space around its exterior and a welcoming ramp toward the front entrance of the gallery. Each viewer had to reconsider her relationship to sculpture and how she typically viewed art. “I thought about the object in the museum,” Burkheimer says. “Could you imagine yourself in it? You might want to explore it through touch, to activate it, but the guard won’t let you.” It’s rare, let’s admit, to experience a work of art while you are standing on top of it. His regular consideration of the body in space speaks to the fact that he began his career as an architecture student (who worked his way through school in construction jobs).
Burkheimer’s work has been exhibited widely, including at the Museum of Contemporary Craft. He has for many years been the head of the Wood Department at the Oregon College of Art and Craft, and he’s currently teaching in the Applied Craft and Design MFA program that is offered jointly by OCAC and Pacific Northwest College of Art.
“As a teacher I regularly push my students to reach beyond their limits. So I have to walk the talk,” Burkheimer says. “It keeps me honest.” Burkheimer will have an exhibition at the White Box Gallery in Portland in October 2012 that extends the work he began with “In Site” at Disjecta.