L.A. is the Right Place for Painter Jason Burgess

Burgess traded in Berlin for L.A. to find a place where he could focus on painting. His series <em>New Work</em> is on display at the Harmony Murphy Gallery

The prismatic paintings of international artist Jason Burgess—the Alabama native, one-time Berliner, and current Angeleno—go on exhibition this Saturday at the Harmony Murphy Gallery. Thirty years old, Burgess already has a number of international exhibitions to his name (he has been shown in Chengdu and Chongqing, China as well as Berlin), co-directed Berlin’s MMX space, and is now generating buzz in the Los Angeles art scene. In his new series, New Work, exhibited in a joint-show with award-winning San Diego artist Joseph Huppert, he works through memory, place, and space.

With gauzy, unfocused (softly photographic) backgrounds fractured into frames and foregrounds preoccupied by loose brushstrokes and splatter that impede penetration, Burgess’s work elicits searching gazes from its viewers. Indeed, his work could be said to enact in its audience a performance of the experiences of so many peripatetic young artists like Burgess, searching for space and place.

In his work, Burgess conceives of the background as a certain feeling, a certain memory, a certain place in the past and the foreground as the interfering present, which does not allow you to slip into the easy reverie that the background promises. “You can’t ever actually get back into a memory, or get back into a feeling, or go back to a place that you’ve been,” he says.

When Burgess moved to Los Angeles from Berlin over three years ago, he didn’t truly want to leave Berlin. Berlin was his “grad school.” “I did a lot of curating and looked at a lot of artwork. I would go to almost every opening,” he says. “So there was always a lot of people discussing art.”

However, in Berlin, he was so immersed in other artists’ work, he did not have the “distance” he needed to be able to create the paintings he truly wanted to make. “Even though I made some video works that I’m really happy with, I wasn’t able to get into painting,” he says. “What I really really wanted to do, I wasn’t quite in a place to do it. And that was also part of why I felt like I needed to move back to the United States.”

In L.A., he has found the place he was seeking. “The art scene is very dynamic. In the last couple years, a lot of new galleries have popped up—on the east side, downtown, east of downtown. I think that’s a big draw,” Burgess says. “You can find space.”