Diane Burko,(b. 1945), Vulcano From the Air, 2001, oil on canvas, H. 60 x W. 84 inches, James A. Michener Art Museum. Gift of Jane Biberman.

“I am using my practice as a painter to document the unprecedented rapidity of change in natural icons, as well as glaciers of the world.” – Diane Burko

Tip #4 – A work of art can create a connection to current events, a social issue or a political theme

Diane Burko is one of the Philadelphia area’s most celebrated contemporary landscape painters and photographers. She often travels to exotic places to find inspiration for her powerful landscapes. She is most inspired by nature and tries to show the way nature “moves”.  She has traveled to France, Italy, Costa Rica, Iceland, the Grand Canyon, Hawaii, and Alaska in search of edges of continents, volcanoes, hot springs, and glaciers. Early in her career, she painted en plein air, or “in the open air”, but now she uses photographs as her inspiration. She also exhibits her own photography as well. Paintings have evolved from photographic projections onto her canvases where she laid out her “structural elements”, sometimes combining more than one photo.

In 1977, Burko took a helicopter ride to the Grand Canyon with environmental artist and aerial photographer James Turrell. This was a transformative experience for her, inspiring her lifelong love of photography and exploration of vast geological spaces. Vulcano from the Air is her aerial observation of a volcano in southern Italy –  its rocky surface shrouded in clouds, framed by the ocean, islands, and sky. Her vision of the landscape is realistic and highly dramatic. Her work seeks to capture “the beauty, mystery, and complexity of nature.”

Looking Questions:

  • What do you see in this work of art?
  • Describe the texture and color of this work.
  • Describe the quality of light in this artwork.
  • Is this artwork a painting or a photograph? What do you see that makes you say that?
  • What would you name this volcano? Why?
  • What feeling do you get while looking at this work? Why?
  • If this work was painted from a different point of view, would the overall impact change? Why or why not?
  • Why do you think the artist painted this particular volcano? Explain.
  • What is an icon? How can this subject matter be considered iconic? Explain your answer.
  • Burko’s goal is to bring awareness of the environment and climate change to the general public. Do you think she succeeds? Why or why not?

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