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Philip Burke (b. 1956), Neil Young; oil on canvas, 48 x 60 inches; image courtesy of artist

Philip Burke (b. 1956), Neil Young; oil on canvas, 48 x 60 inches; image courtesy of artist

The Likeness of Being: Portraits by Philip Burke

Presented by Lisa A. Bartolomei-Kelly with support in part by Will Kelly, CFP® and United Capital Financial Advisors

On View Friday, April 10–Sunday, September 13, 2015

East Gallery   

Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, New York Observer—the editors of these and numerous other prominent newspapers and magazines from around the world have all been drawn to Philip Burke's work. Burke creates portraits—part caricature, part abstract expression—that vividly capture the essence of the person he's painting. His process begins with careful study of the landscape of the subject's face, sketching until he's gained an intimate understanding of the geometry and topography of the individual's unique features. Knowing how the person looks allows Burke the freedom to explore who they really are. That's when, as the artist describes it, the "dance" begins, resulting in lyrical explosions of color on canvas and bold pen strokes on paper. As faces warp and melt, the soul of the subject—from musicians to movie stars, from athletes to politicians, from family and friends to Burke himself—comes into view. The Likeness of Being brings together powerful portraits from throughout the artist's prolific career.


Philip Burke has been capturing the imaginations of musical divas, film and sports enthusiasts, politicos and the general public through his paintings for over three decades. His unique style—part caricature, part abstract expression—utilizes vibrant colors, sparing brushstrokes and sharp lines to set his work apart from that of all other contemporary artists.

The Burchfield Penney Art Center at SUNY Buffalo State presents The Likeness of Being: Portraits by Philip Burke, an exhibition of more than 75 of Burke’s most iconic paintings and drawings, on view Friday, April 10 – Sunday, September 13, 2015.

The exhibition will launch a national tour of the work, accompanied by a book, focused on a portfolio of images and an in-depth interview with Burke, the first time that the artist has publically discussed his practice in art. In the extended conversation with Brian Grunert, Grammy-Award winning designer and long-time friend, and Scott Propeack, chief curator and associate director of The Center, Burke reveals his unique process of interpreting a dramatic range of subjects; the realization of his radical caricatures, emerging from the quiet of his Buddhist practice onto life-sized canvases. Burke also speaks about the transformation of large scale art into much smaller reproductions, distributed in leading press outlets around the world, particularly Vanity Fair, which he notes as his most successful long term collaboration. The Vanity Fair images range from Menachem Begin and Yasser Arafat to Mick Jagger and George W. Bush. An introductory essay by Dr. Anthony Bannon, executive director of The Center and director emeritus of George Eastman House, places Burke’s work into a wider context of the creation of culture on a global stage.

Widely published, Burke’s work serves as a chronicle of the cultural, political and social undercurrent, appearing on the covers and pages of Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, The New York Observer, Time, Vogue, The New Yorker, Newsweek, GQ, Vogue, Sports Illustrated, New York Times, TV Guide, and many others.

“People from around the world recognize Burke’s work…everybody, in some way, has a personal connection to it. But, few know the artist behind the portraits. As a portraitist, Philip expresses his own understanding of the subject,” said Scott Propeack, Burchfield Penney associate director and chief curator. “Each one of his paintings suspends a moment in time. It’s a portrait of someone we’ve come to know through news stories or popular culture, but as Burke paints, the figure warps and abstracts, and something deeper shines through.”

Co-curator Brian Grunert notes that exhibiting a comprehensive selection of Burke’s portraits in a museum setting will provide visitors a unique opportunity to explore these connections. “On the surface, Philip’s work can be appreciated for its stylistic and technical craftsmanship. But when you experience these portraits together, subtler possibilities emerge,” said Grunert, partner at White Bicycle design studio. “Burke’s abstractions are deliberate. He’s amplifying the essence of the subject, exposing the inspiration and volatility of celebrity, and ultimately revealing something of our shared humanity.”

For Likeness of Being, Burke will be painting a new portrait of the late Charles E. Burchfield based on a survey of photographs, journal entries, sketchbooks and watercolors. “For Burke to reference The Center’s collection and archives to create a portrait of Burchfield is really exciting,” said Grunert. “We will exhibit Philip’s sketches for the painting, to reveal the process of creating the Burchfield portrait. Visitors have gained a biographical sense of Charles Burchfield through exhibitions over the years, but to see Burke’s interpretation will be special.”