The Howling Unknown — Dord Burrough


The body of works you see before you demonstrates new progression within the practice of Brisbane artist Dord Burrough. Already known for a signature painting style characterised by heavy lines, disturbingly psychedelic colour schemes and an almost unworkable layering of paint, Burrough has used this opportunity at Level to push her works into the third dimension. Her breaking with past limitations of medium (a move which her previous use of impasto textures foreshadowed) has resulted in a break with past concepts as well.

Burrough’s previous interrogation of the traditional genres of painting (portraiture, still life, landscape, etc. )dissected her subjects through a painful psychedelic lens that often lead viewers to mistake her works for quick impressions; studies which caught a glimpse of the everyday once processed through the unconscious. However, it can be argued that the grotesque and abject qualities of her paintings demonstrate quite the opposite – a deep level of meditative attention towards her subjects so prolonged it distorts their most immediately recognizable features to reveal their abstract symbolism. Burrough states: “I believe that our dilemma, the loss of collective connection to the earth, is strongly associated with our loss of connection to the unconscious.” Because of this dilemma, Burrough has always resisted contextualising her works within the visual reference points of our ‘conscious’ world. Instead she presents her subjects in ways that are immediately familiar yet beyond our full comprehension. Her motivation stems from a deep dissatisfaction with an intersectional array of issues – Human alienation from nature, modern ideas of consciousness, and efforts to resist the socialisation that industrial capitalism imposes on our relationship with ourselves and each other.

In The Howling Unknown, this dissatisfaction is no longer just meditated upon, but has been transformed into action. As Burrough acknowledges, in order to connect with the organic there must be an intimate familiarity with nature’s symmetry and systems. Yet our alienation from these systems renders the organic too foreign from us for any meaningful relationship to develop. Burrough attempts to establish such a relationship through the creation of experimental artworks. Each work proposes a different hypothesis as to what a meaningful relationship with nature might look like. She attempts this whilst acknowledging her own reference points will always already be inadequately established. What results is a brave process of materialising potential relationships between the self and the organic that Burrough may never have actually experienced herself. Reproducing her subjects thus becomes a guessing game; the details of a sole flower, the rendering of the female body, the sculpting of organic forms clustered on a log present as garishly coloured, wrongly textured, somewhat misshapen, disturbingly synthetic. Consequently these works do not merely speak of the dilemma of our alienation, they are both products of this alienation and proof of the artist’s efforts to resist it.They emit a disconcerting yet alluring mood that contains immense potential to grapple with their immanent dilemma.

The appeal of The Howling Void is indicative of Burrough’s determinationto visually explore the relationships within the world that mean the most to her. The works which have resulted demonstrate an acute conceptual clarity whilst containing their own unique aesthetic appeal. Although they arecertainly experimental works, their success is indicative of Burrough’s talent as an artist and as a thinker. The ability of these works to convey her predicament – our shared predicament – in all its hazy, semi-conscious and elusive forms testifies to her belief in the power of art to challenge this unfortunate situation. In turn, she presents a compelling argument for us to do so as well.