New exhibit at the Belkin shows the evolution of Tom Burrows’ artistic career

Tom Burrows’ exhibit opened on Thursday night at the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery. Burrows is an alumnus of the undergraduate Art History program at UBC and attended Central Saint Martins in London for his post-graduate studies. The show is curated by Burrows’ longtime friend and neighbour Scott Watson and is a collection of selected works from the artist's early career to the present. The exhibit presents a comprehensive look into the creative evolution of one of Vancouver’s most celebrated artists. When asked why he chose to show his friend’s work now, at the campus on which Burrows began his artistic study, Watson stated simply: “It was time.”

The most recent works in the exhibit are the polymer panels, most of which have been produced over the last 45 years. The panels are beautiful rock-like formations or glaciers: possessing a quiet, but tangible, looming presence. Some are intensely pigmented, like the Hematoma Double Brown -- two metre long square panels one on top of the other, both the incredibly precise colours of a blood blister forming under the skin.

Displayed among early drawings is a printed interview from May 1967 -- at that time, Burrows was on the precipice of his career -- he said that when he paints “guts and image are most important to me” but in sculpture a “sense of presence and to get this, I try to annihilate all trace of guts and image.” The polymer panels have that presence, and an earnestness that transcends vulnerability, no guts needed.

It is incredible to see the diversity and evolution of an artist’s work in one space, strange even. The rusted fasteners and browning collection of typewriter written notes and field photographs in Burrows’ Duo-Tangs from his days compiling his Skwat Doc, a documentation of slums and squatting communities around the world in the 1970s, stand in stark contrast to the heaviness and maturity that his most recent polymer resin pieces suggest to the viewer.

Time is not the only thing separating Burrows earliest works from his latest: if one were to go in without prior knowledge of the exhibition, it would definitely seem as though the gallery was showing several different artists. The juxtaposition of his outdoor mud flats found material sculptures such as Mud Ring and his photographic expressions of those same installations demonstrates Burrows’ deft ability to move between mediums and his rejection of formalism -- focusing on meaning found in a work’s context and its relationship with circumstances rather than its formal elements.

The exhibit will be shown until April 12, 2015. The photographic work No Sleep can be found in the Walter C. Koerner Library as part of the exhibition.