Jamie Burmeister Explores Artmaking and Color with his ‘Vermin’

L. Kent Wolgamott for L Magazine, via the Lincoln Journal Star

Tiny workers stand atop wood panels, on ladders and on hanging platforms and swing across the panels on ropes, pouring and brushing on brightly colored acrylic to create paintings that are captured in progress, as it were, by sculptor Jamie Burmeister.

That’s the gist of “What Color Is Hope?,” Burmeister’s insightful and entertaining Kiechel Fine Arts exhibition.

Burmeister, who received his Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2005 and the 2016 Outstanding Artist Governor’s Art Award, created nearly all of the 27 pieces in the show in June and July in his Omaha studio.

The work is, in a sense, anchored by the 4-inch-tall bronze figures that Burmeister calls “vermin” which have, over the last decade, made their way into his gallery and museum pieces, public art installations, street art and gone around the country via a social media project.

By forming the vermin digitally using 3-D modeling and printing, and transforming them into bronze by lost wax casting, Burmeister captures the fine details of each of the figures, allowing him to create men and women, with facial expressions and multiple types of “movements” – pouring out buckets of paint and wielding long-handled brushes to make paintings.

Those vermin at work take “What Color Is Hope?” into an examination of the artmaking process, illustrating in absurdly humorous fashion the oft-tedious effort and detailed consideration involved in creating objects.

“I’m definitely interested in the process of making art,” Burmeister said. “That’s the part of it that I live for. That’s where the idea came from, to highlight the process. They’re all making art in some way. There are subtle differences between the figures and what they’re doing ….

“I think of them as found art pieces. And I think of the works as sculpture; the painting is part of the sculpture. I’m building the piece and the painting is part of the piece.”

So, to pick a few examples in “Arcs,” a couple vermin swing from strings, “painting” overlapping circular patterns, while a woman stands supervising on top of a wood panel, a man holds one of the strings, another points as if giving direction, a third stands with hands on knees and a dog lays down oblivious to the process.

In “Yellow Blobs,” three vermin stand on a hanging platform, a la window washers, two wielding long paint brushes, applying the red and blue dots that angle across the surface with buckets by their side while the third stands with his hands on his hips, supervising as it were.

And in “Yellow and Blue Make Green,” the working vermin is hanging by a string held by another on top, having descended the panel, mixing long stripes of blue and yellow into a swirling green mixture.

The latter is also one of the best examples of the exhibition’s titular theme “What Color Is Hope?”

As a sculptor, Burmeister was forced to explore color as he incorporated the emotion of “hope” into his work. “The idea that things can get better pushes my creative practice into new areas of exploration,” he writes in his artist’s statement, which continues with this:

“Sometimes I dance with color, while other times it is a fight. Through it all, I hope to develop an understanding of this new aspect of my artwork.”

The color exploration can be seen in pieces like the six small panels in the vertical “Stack,” with squares of primary colors blue, yellow and red stacked above their secondary counterparts purple and green, with the vermin painting a descending white line through them.

It can also be seen in the striped pieces – both horizontal and vertical – that find the vermin either pouring buckets or pushing swathes of paint to create the first or final line in a multi-colored sequence.

And the use of color extends to Burmeister’s further exploration of the painted surface with works like “Smudge.” In that piece, the vermin are adding color to a loosely painted black passage, a combination that brings to mind mid-century abstract expressionism. “Concentric Circle” pieces in multiple colors, an abstraction technique that reaches back to Wassily Kandinsky delivered with a ‘60s hard edge.

While the vermin aren’t purely found art – they’re crafted, not picked up off the street or in a shop – the show contains a smart, effective found art assemblage. The vermin hammer an array of multi-colored plastic bottle and container “caps” onto the surface, creating an echo of other pieces that use acrylic dots to accomplish the similar patterns and color contrasts.

There’s meticulous painted detail in many of the works, especially the “Arc” pieces and a series that uses tiny colored dots, matching the very tightly composed sculptural figures and tools.

There’s obviously plenty of humor throughout, with a pointed funny statement delivered in a tiny floor piece that has a vermin atop a dollar bill caught in a mouse trap and, in a last minute addition, a little guy with a rag in his hand, up a ladder “cleaning” the Jun Kaneko dango that stands in the gallery window.

“What Color Is Hope?” runs through Sept. 30 at Kiechel Fine Art, 1208 O St. Don’t miss it. It’s the best art exhibition in Lincoln in months.