Editor’s note: Welcome to a new semi-regular series wherein Alive examines how Columbus inspires local artists.
Artists have found inspiration in location for centuries, and Columbus is no exception. There are a number of local artists who find the city — whether it’s landscape and architecture, the people or even the minutiae of everyday life — as a source of inspiration. I could have talked with a dozen — probably more — artists who find (in subject matter and/or process) Columbus as their muse.
Two painters, Christopher Burk and Amanda Hope Cook, and one photographer, Adam Elkins, have found interesting aspects of Columbus for their artwork. All three have things in common (the urban landscape), but their work is individually distinct and dynamic.
Burk paints beautifully realistic urban landscapes of Columbus, but from a rarely seen viewpoint. He focuses on the power lines, electrical poles and transformers — accented by peaks of houses or tops of buildings — discovering both inspiration and a theme.
“I like to give the viewer a different perspective. I’ve always been really drawn to the urban landscape, and the majority of people only look at what’s eye-level … not looking at a transformer as a thing of beauty,” Burk said during an interview last week at his Tacocat studio.
Burk found the subject matter for his most recent and successful series of paintings by accident: traversing Columbus by foot or car with a camera seeking out the perfect setting. One day he found it.
“It was kind of a happy accident … I just happened to find this one up-shot of a house and a jumble of spaghetti-wire across from the Book Loft. I made this painting and it turned into this series,” Burk said. “The current body of work … I like to think of it as connectivity within the city.”
Burk’s story is similar to fellow painter Amanda Hope Cook, whose current series began seven years ago. Initially making the sky the focus, and instead of bringing her eyes “up,” Cook needed to look slightly lower.
“I literally brought my eye further down and found more interesting things going on with the light on the signs, especially the neon signs,” Cook said, during an interview at her Millworks studio last Friday.
Cook has captured many of the city’s iconic neon signs — Rife’s Market in Grandview, R & R Bait in the Brewery District, the Drexel Theatre in Bexley. The paintings stun by capturing every last detail; shadow work and three-dimensional depth making each one seem like a photograph.
Cook has recently taken new approaches with the sign series. For her recently closed solo exhibit at Sharon Weiss Gallery, Cook created a 30-panel alphabet piece using only one letter from a different sign, painted neon insignia behind windows to incorporate reflection and trompe l'oeil-stylized pieces that are exact replicas of the subject.
“Signs that are behind windows … create this great reflection of what’s going on behind me and in front of me with the sign itself,” Cook said. “I also did some trompe l'oeil pieces that I’d never done before. I would cutout pieces of wood to the shapes of the actual signs. I wanted that feeling that it’s popping off, but it’s all painted and flat.”
While Adam Elkins’ photography captures the literal space or subject matter, his approach and style is less clear-cut … with a hint of danger. Elkins has never taken a photography class. He just started snapping pictures while out on one of his adventures.
“My main thing is urban exploring; finding spots all around Columbus that nobody, or barely anybody, has been to — secret spots, abandoned warehouses, factories, houses,” Elkins said during an interview at a downtown coffee shop. “I like grungy alleyways and really textured walls. It’s all about finding the right spot and capturing it.”
Elkins finds inspiration during his treks, from the rubble inside a long-forgotten church and a collection of empty beer bottles to intimate portraits of friends (who often accompany him) and utterly spectacular methods of capturing urban beauty.
One of his most popular series involves puddles and skylines. Elkins bisects these photos using the puddle to create a mirrored image. It’s one of the reasons Elkins currently has 36,000 Instagram followers.
“I wasn’t getting what I wanted out of [the puddle photos], but I just keep doing it. The repetitiveness, and getting response back from followers, it just kept going from there. Now people automatically think of me when they see a puddle in Columbus,” Elkins said.
Another area Burk, Cook and Elkins have something in common is looking beyond Columbus. Cook, a Nashville native, is creating Nashville and Asheville, North Carolina-centric paintings to exhibit in those cities and would like to tackle the bright lights of Las Vegas. Elkins regularly travels for his photos. Burk said his work could be thematically equal but visually different no matter where the city.
“I would like to branch out because I feel my work isn’t too descript; it could be a lot of places,” Burk said. “Eventually I’d like to do work out of here, but other places as well because the landscape is different, the texture is different, but there’s still that idea of being connected. A lot of this plays along the archaic infrastructure … so you still have a lot of the same elements within the landscape and technology that at some point may be relics.”
Besides finding inspiration in Columbus (that could be transferred to other cities), all three artists want the viewer to see from a new perspective. That, accompanied by their stunning pieces, should inspire Columbus.