Gary Burnley (b. Saint Louis, Missouri) works with collage to disrupt established conceptions of representation, centering those who have been left outside the art historical canon. Juxtaposing and overlapping 18th-century European paintings and 20th-century school yearbooks, family photos and found imagery, famous and unknown figures, he subverts the tradition of portraiture, surpassing its conventional significations. Historically, portraits have depicted idealized visions of their subjects, giving permanence in paint to the social status and economic power of their sitters. Burnley turns to amalgamation to generate more inclusive and expansive readings, redeploying portraiture to destabilize the meanings it instantiates.
Not seen as possessing the dignity and humanity commensurate with the objectives of portrait painting, Black women, men, and children have, throughout history, been unrepresented or improperly represented. Combining imagery from different periods and sources, often made for conflicting reasons, Burnley brings contradictions into the space of the picture, allowing portraits to present the same world quite differently. This interweaving has the effect of upending habitual interpretations of familiar imagery. Grappling with the question of what art should be, and for whom, Burnley makes a place for people who have been told they have no place. In his collages and stereographs, he reinterprets the significance of historical depictions, effecting physical and emotional improvements by assembling what he calls “strange bedfellows” in the same frame.
Burnley received a BFA from Washington University in St. Louis and an MFA from Yale University. His work is part of museum and private collections in the US, including the Virginia Museum of Art, Richmond, VA, Hunter Museum of American Art, Chattanooga, TN, Weatherspoon Art Museum, University of North Carolina and the Marieluise Hessel Collection, Bard College. Solo and group exhibitions include Aperture Gallery, NYC, Ogden Museum, New Orleans, LA, Tbilisi University, Tbilisi, Georgia, Candela Gallery, Richmond, VA, SALON, Florence, Italy, Honey Ramaka Gallery, Brooklyn, NY, Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, TX, Artists Space, NYC. A Photolucida Critical Mass 2020 Top 50 Selection, Burnley was the 2020 Blue Sky Solo Show Winner, a 2019 FotoFilmic Mesh Award finalist, a finalist for the Clarence John Laughlin Photography Award in 2018, and has been the recipient of individual artist fellowships and commissions from the National Endowment for the Arts, the State of Connecticut, New York State Council on the Arts, Creative Artist Public Service Program, NYC, MTA, NYC and Bi-State Development, Saint Louis, Missouri.