Northern Artists – Mark Burgum
Skylines series 1. graphite and ink pen 'Central hall, lockdown 2020'
Mark Burgum is a visual artist based in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire and his work, drawing on a strong linear technique exploring the interplay of line and tone might, on the surface, appear simple in its construction, yet this masks a much more complex undertone.
The wilderness and moorland that surround the Western fringes of Yorkshire and the Pennines are of course a source of great inspiration to many artists who live in the vibrant Calder Valley, yet Mark is still drawn to the urban cityscapes of Manchester and the towns of Yorkshire and Lancashire. He feels the post-industrial conurbations possess a wealth of creative potential and energy which as an artists he can tap into.
His recent work is developed from exploration of the urban environment on foot; making quick sketches and taking snaps on his camera. He works on instinct; the subjects of photographs might appear common, every-day, non-descript, even banal; yet conversely he will seek dynamic compositions, images taken from an abstract viewpoint, like snapshots from a moving train.
The apparent simplicity of his drawings blurs the boundaries between abstraction and representation as they mimic what the “photographic eye” is seeing, rather than that which the human eye sees. By this is meant that the images are represented in an almost cinematic form; comprising close-up shots, unusual angles, cropped images and accentuated viewpoints. So, the apparent simplicity is a mask, beneath which lies the “untruthful nature” of the photograph. Mark says that the legacy of conceptual art is that “ideas and concepts can feed into your work from all angles, whether that be film, virtual reality or music…”
Piccadilly 1 Skyline Series 3 Skyline Series 6
And this idea of a mask is reflected in his own thinking. To his work he ascribes a dreamlike quality, he feels the influence of psychological realism: that despite the apparent familiarity of an image, its feeling of ordinary and every-day, it is nevertheless imbued with an uncanny, slightly destabilising and unsettling quality – much as could be visualised in a cinematic process.
That all said, Mark does not have any preconceived ideas of that his drawings are supposed to mean. Instead, he seeks to create a “contemplative space” in which the viewer can interpret a meaning however they choose to do so. His drawings create the visual space in which to contemplate a thought; a space to reflect. He believes that art can provide both a playful space in which to indulge but also a deeper place that has the ability to remove you from your comfort zone – both experiences giving a sense of nourishment to the human character.
Mark grew up in the 1970s and 80s, with the backdrop of Thatcherism and a country in the grips of an economic depression. The post-punk era bands of Manchester inevitability played a role in the development of his cultural tastes in his teenage years; the music flourished on the tension derived from the social and political turbulence of the time. But it was also a source of creativity – the energy it possessed inspired a belief that music could and should “change the world” – a reflection of the restless tension and unrealised anticipation of the era. This great tension, energy, passion and atmosphere all contribute to the concepts that feed directly into Mark’s work. Therefore, the titles of Mark’s drawings often reference the likes of Joy Division or The Chameleons, often they are accompanied by a quote drawn from a writer and philosopher whose work has influenced Mark. This again contributes to the space he is creating in which a viewer can contemplate – the quotes are to stimulate thought rather than prescribe a narrative for each piece.
Mark began working on drawings contributing to a project for Arts Council England in the summer of 2019, which was due to conclude with a joint exhibition in the Artsmill Gallery, Hebden Bridge in April this year. Inevitably lockdown put paid to that, in addition to causing his teaching work for WEA (Workers’ Educational Association) and other providers to cease; however Mark has continued to develop his range of contemporary drawings. He has previously exhibited his work, the first time at Gallery 2 in The University of Bradford back in 2003, and he hopes in the near future to find a host gallery to display his pieces in a new show. His artistic profile is relatively low key and he hopes his work with the Arts Council England can draw public engagement alongside an independent show with other galleries.
Mark prefers to work in isolation, often late into the night, and like everybody, he has experienced the anxiety and uncertainty of life under lockdown. The work he began last year depicting empty streets and figures in isolated surrounds eerily foresaw life as we came to know it in early 2020, but Mark greets the return to normality with his usual fortitude: life as an artist is a challenge, despite the rewards. He possesses the strong sense of motivation he believes artists need to survive; he knows that for many, the reality is financial strain. He believes art has a huge role to play in the modern world and he is passionate about the role that art can play in education. But we have borne witness to successive governments who have downplayed the importance of the arts and Mark is, like many, concerned about the future of “the arts” and its survival in the post-Covid world.
Mark cites Grayson Perry as a contemporary source of inspiration, but he has always been drawn to abstract painting and minimalist art. When he views the work of American minimalist Agnes Martin (1912-2004), or Scottish abstract painter and former Turner Prize nominee Callum Innes (www.calluminnes.com
), he experiences a meditative state of stillness and quiet that invites contemplation. He also admires American Sarah Morris, who draws influence from minimalism, architecture and conceptual art, whose minimalist work explores the urban cityscapes of America and our relationship to the urban space. Mark believes her combination of geometrics and cinematography both celebrates and deconstructs American metropolises.
Mark is determined to promote and raise his artistic profile and intends to establish an online shop and website where his art can be viewed and purchased. For now, however, you can follow him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/markburgumvisualartist/
and keep an eye on art galleries and shops of Hebden Bridge, such as Spirals (https://www.spiralshebden.co.uk/
), where future art exhibitions may well be held and his work exhibited.