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Artist Talk: Tom Burckhardt in conversation with Kathy Butterly


On the occasion of our exhibition Ulterior Motif, Tom Burckhardt discusses his latest body of work with artist Kathy Butterly, who is also Burckhardt's partner. Butterly interviews Burckhardt, enriching the conversation with her personal insights and observations. Burckhardt discusses creating the work in his studio in Maine, his parents' influence, trying new things, and rooting the viewer's experience in pareidolia.


Press Release

The George Adams Gallery is pleased to present Ulterior Motif, an exhibition of new abstract paintings by Tom Burckhardt, on view from February 23 through April 6. Ulterior Motif is Burckhardt's first solo exhibition at George Adams. The gallery will host an opening reception with the artist on Friday, February 23 from 6 - 8 PM.

Tom Burckhardt’s work explores the intersection of abstraction and figuration. Through the skillful use of a diverse range of marks, Burckhardt encourages the viewer to discern distinct forms and figures within his layered abstractions. This play of perception, where seemingly random patterns give rise to recognizable images, is known as pareidolia—a concept Burckhardt has been consistently engaging with in his work.

In his latest series, there is a noticeable shift in both scale and composition when compared to his previous paintings, stemming from a combination of intentional and unintentional circumstances. Deliberately, Burckhardt opted to work on a larger scale, aiming to construct a “society” of relational elements within his abstractions, as opposed to the individualized “portraits” of his previous work. As for the unintentional, Burckhardt’s mother, the artist Yvonne Jacquette suddenly passed away at the age of 88 in April, significantly influencing Burckhardt’s development in this series.

The works in Ulterior Motif incorporate pigments sourced from pre-mixed tubes Burckhardt found in Jacquette’s studio, and the canvases are remnant rolls of linen she had left behind. Inspired by Jacquette’s method, Burckhardt for the first time tacked linen onto his studio walls instead of stretching the canvases in advance. This departure proved productive for Burckhardt, as it eliminated the constraints of cost and deliberation, ultimately resulting in fresh and un-busied compositions.

While Burckhardt’s compositions at first appear entirely abstract, many representational elements begin to emerge upon closer inspection. For example an “ear” in the top right of A Pointed (2023), or the “reclining nude” of Peeping Tomorrow (2023), offer clear visual cues for viewers, though Burckhardt’s style resists overt figural identification. While Burckhardt acknowledges the “figures” in his works may appear as fractured, he prefers the adjective “congealed” – as an image coming together rather than breaking apart (an attitude Burckhardt attests to his own optimism). Perceiving the compositions becomes a visual game – discovering the painted pathways combine into something familiar, yet experiencing the overall abstraction simultaneously.

Tom Burckhardt was born in New York City in 1964. He attended SUNY Purchase and graduated with a BFA in painting in 1986, after which he attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. His work has been the subject of over thirty solo exhibitions at institutions including the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, TX; the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, NY; and the Knoxville Art Museum in Knoxville, TN. Burckhardt was a participant of the 2016 Kochi-Muziris Biennale in Kerala, India and an artist in residence at the Yaddo Foundation in New York State in 2019 and Pepper House, Kochi, India in 2020. He has received numerous grants and awards, including three grants from the New York Foundation for the Arts, a Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant, a Guggenheim Foundation Grant, two Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grants, and the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Award from the American Academy. He currently teaches part-time at SUNY Purchase.

Kathy Butterly (b. 1963, Amityville, NY) has exhibited widely in the United States and internationally. The artist was most recently the subject of a solo exhibition, Kathy Butterly: Out of one, many / Headscapes, at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. The show traveled to the Portland Museum of Art in Portland, Maine. In 2019, Butterly was the subject of a solo exhibition at the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art at UC Davis. Recently, Butterly’s work was featured in group exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, and the Anderson Collection at Stanford University. Kathy Butterly will be the subject of a major survey exhibition at the Tang Teaching Museum at Skidmore College, New York, in Fall 2025 with a substantial career-spanning catalogue.