David Bierk

David Bierk was born in Appleton, Minnesota in 1944 and died in 2002. He received both a B.A. and an M.A. from Humboldt State University, Arcata, California. He also attended California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland.

The artist’s love of history and his enthusiasm to re-present the masters in a new context was a constant and consistent motif throughout his oeuvre. Bierk’s still life paintings are after some of the artist’s favorite masters: Fantin Latour, Manet, the Dutch masters. In each case, Bierk alters the image, changes its scale, magnifies the proportions and paints with the gusto and passion that were his signature. Many of the still life works are surrounded by steel, an industrial material. Bierk intentionally set up a tension between the softness of oil and the hardness of steel, between the painting as a valued object, and steel, a construction material, of no inherent value. It was the dialogue of these divergent chords the artist addressed conceptually in his still life paintings.

Bierk’s landscapes honor the Hudson River painters; creators of idealized landscapes. The most heroic of them is entitled Requiem for a Planet, Hudson River Evening, 65 x 88 inches. Most of Bierk’s landscapes are completely invented, based on his affection for artists who loved the light in the landscape, Turner, Bierstadt, the Hudson River painters come to mind. The landscapes of the ‘80s are more tranquil, with golden skies, trees, meanders, rolling hills; the more recent landscapes are more abstract, mostly sky—at least 3/4’s of the canvas filled with the athleticism of painting. One almost feels the artist pushing, pulling, scraping the paint around the surface creating charged atmospheric spaces. In Requiem for a Planet, golden clouds traverse the umber tree-dotted terrain, moving at rapid speed, as if windswept by the artist’s passion to apply paint. His landscapes are a testimony to his feelings for the land and what man has done to destroy its natural resources and riches. These are powerful, moving, heart-wrenching, sublime paintings.

Bierk’s painted photographs spring from the same source as his paintings, the interest in where land meets sky, where mists and clouds conceal, where water reflects land and sky, trees and flowers. They are based on photographs he took on his travels throughout this country and Canada. He photographed in panoramic format, mounted the images on canvas or board, and painted into and beyond the photographic border to create a complete image. Thus, the images are part “real” and part imagined from the artist’s hand and mind.

Bierk worked on this body of painted photographs from 1989-1992, well before many artists began to manipulate photographs, use multiple images, or apply paint to their surface. Each image is unique as a photograph, and each unique in its application of paint, each varnished to a shimmering, glistening surface. The combination of materials expresses contemporary concerns between ideas of nature and culture, originality and appropriation, tradition and modernity.