Pete Burkeet. Liquid poetics

Pete Burkeet already has a fair number of pieces on Aura’s platform. It is difficult to say anything about them all without stopping on each, because every piece deserves and inspires its own readings, but I may not spread out that far, and will thus, pointing out a detail here and another there, attempt to arrive, if possible, to a poetics of his fine art work. For that, a word from the Spanish language is essential: “destello”. “Destello” is an instantaneous shining, emerging, generally, from a reflection. Etymologically, “destello” comes from the latin “destillare”, meaning a “falling drop” giving off an ephemeral shimmer. This liquid and reflective origin of light could serve as a first idea/metaphor to outline Burkeet’s poetics.

Garden Gnome by Pete Burkeet

Perhaps, the pieces that bear the most evident resemblance to the destello would be: Water Hole, Ignition Room, Wet Carpet, and Garden Gnome. This last one could be the most telling in that sense, in spite of being a still image, where water is not an easily identifiable presence and is not videoart like the others, displaying a very complex imaginarium that may extend to the rest.

Garden Gnome emerged from an accident recorded on video: the simultaneous explosion of fireworks on a lake in San Diego, California (2012). The fireworks were on a small boat, it seems, and from the center of the lake, a great cloud of light emerged, like the eruption of a volcano, leaving the scene in darkness once it dies out. The burst is a long destello, illuminating and exciting, while terrifying for the beholders on the shore. “There is always terror in beauty, beauty in terror” says the artist referring to his Garden Gnome. On the other hand… why is it called a “garden gnome”? That’s where Burkeet’s imagination comes into play, the animation (from the latin animare: “to give or bring life to”) of the events.

Gnomes, mythical creatures, invisible but imaginable, very well represented in popular culture, tend to live underground, and are thus related to mining the subterranean matter that lays in the depths of the earth. That alchemical character that gnomes have, invisible workers of the land and its sources of energy, reveals itself to us as the host or source of a fiery splendor that flares up from the water. Its face is frightening, but the technique, the color, the golden rain of fire that envelops the scene is nonetheless beautiful, even heartwarming. Another detail, a result of the flight of fancy in Burkeet’s imagination, is that gnomes do not usually have wings. There is something in the figure of the gnome that reminds me, I don’t know precisely why, to a butterfly, perhaps his wings look like the upper part of the ones those insects have. The Greeks used to use the word “psyche” when referring both to the soul and to butterflies. I believe, I insist, that this gnome is the soul of the events, of the explosion, of the light, of the displaced destello of the image.

Frame from Maxell by Pete Burkeet

Another important idea pops up here: the displaced, the trickling, the container of light: the paint, its materiality and its digital pliability. Thumbprint Bouquet, Swat Man, Maxell, The Leaker are all clear examples of this. Those are videos in which we may see paint smear, move, a liquid color agitating like a living being.

Another piece, Gunpowder, is also very rich regarding its composition and psychism. It is a collage put together from cuttings of old canvases, mixed in the computer. In the image (which is static, just like Garden Gnome) we see two dancing figures, whose feathers and crowns reminisce of the Mardi Gras indigenous dancers in New Orleans. Burkeet was born in Ohio, and this piece was inspired by the landscape of his childhood and the processes of colonization that took place in the United States, I’m using the comparison to Mardi Gras to serve as a reference, because of the dancing and the rhythm of the figures we see in Gunpowder, another essential element for the explosion. About this piece, Burkeet says some things that may well extend to the remaining pieces as participating in the same poetics, and I mean poetics due to the closeness between his painting and music, insofar as there are rhythmic and tonal essences in them: “I always had the eerie feeling of a ghost of a world that was more vibrant, that lived with nature and communed in dance and song”.

Frame from The Leaker by Pete Burkeet


In a conversation I had with Pete Burkeet, where we delved deeper into the liquid texture of his pieces, the artist gave me these beautiful answers, which perfectly meld into what I have been essaying, and additionally provide a new dimension to the debate on digital arts.

I wanted to ask: what do you think about the liquid texture of your pieces?

About the liquid texture. You pointed me at the rabbit hole with that inquiry. I love how paint flows on a surface as a painting is being made, I am also a student of the history of media and the different textures of analog media — mainly the imperfections of film. Since digital displays are at a place where the pixels have all but disappeared, I see the new digital landscape as a place where any aesthetic is fair game. One of my biggest obsessions is how the qualities of physical mediums like paint can be expressed –or amplified– in the digital space. I feel there are art historical and philosophical connotations within this approach, and over time the significance of the idea of minting an IRL connection to materials on the blockchain should be self-evident. My interest in that liquid texture also came from an early fascination with the oil sludge coating the rocks around an oil well in the woods behind my house. I was obsessed with the film of bright and dirty orange sludge coating the rocks. It was gorgeous but gross to touch. It was the residue of humans pulling energy out of the earth. I love residues.

Pete, I want to ask you one more thing. When you say “minting an IRL connection”, do you mean: “minting an ‘in real life’ connection”and what does that mean to you?

Yeah, what I am saying is that all my work is an exploration of my need to express the physical mediums of our physical world (in real life mediums) on the blockchain, in a meaningful way, to capture something about a need to express in physical space. I like the way the maturity of the digital image mediums allows this expression to be possible now, I think it is an important expression of being human.




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