Rik Burkard’s whimsical sculptures sprout and yawn into shapes resembling arrows, bowls and tripods.
The self-described recluse shows his work at Albuquerque’s Sumner & Dene Gallery.
He builds his ceramics with his hands, eschewing a wheel and preferring “very expensive” New Mexico white cashmere clay.
He took awards for Best in Sculpture at the New Mexico State Fair in both 2019 and 2021.
The Wisconsin-raised artist was the lost child in a family of eight children.
“I made things at home,” Burkard said, “paintings, drawings, little sculptures with stuff that was lying around.”
A longing for privacy, as well as his creativity, drew him to the solace of the art studio. He would go on to earn art and art history degrees from the University of Wisconsin before moving to Albuquerque in 1983 for his master’s in fine arts degree at the University of New Mexico. He’s been here ever since.
“After you shovel 9 feet of snow in Wisconsin, you want a warmer place to work,” he explained.
He lives for the process, not the results, even shrugging off a shattered sculpture that fell from a shelf.
It’s “the textile nature of it,” Burkard said. “I can have an idea in my head and open a bag of clay. When it’s done, it goes on the wall, on the table, on a shelf or in a box. I’m not attached to it then. It’s the experience of it and making them that means the most.”
His “Bird Flying High” shows a soaring avian sporting highly detailed feathers. Birds have been a recurring feature in Burkard’s work.
“I like birds a lot,” he said, “because they’re free.”
“Arrow Bowl” resembles a projectile embellished by dots, lines and squiggles.
“I like to decorate,” Burkard said. “Shapes are very important to me. I had a bowl in front of me and I just started to decorate it.”
His “Tripodica I and II” are three-foot vessels shooting up flowers and buds – or could they be antennae?
“It’s like a little alien with three legs,” Burkard said.
Ten years ago, he completed a massive clay tile installation for the John Wesley United Methodist Church in Houston.
“It’s all done in relief,” he said. “It’s meant to be touched.”
Burkard worked in the UNM library for 25 years before his retirement nine years ago. He says he doesn’t play the “art game” of parties and openings.
“I like to keep to myself,” he said. “The art world has a tendency to become a little bit phony.”
His fanciful sculptures bear the invisible imprint of the great Belgian Surrealist René Magritte, renowned for his witty and thought-provoking painting often depicting ordinary objects in an unusual context.
“I study art history and it comes in handy when I’m watching ‘Jeopardy,’ ” he deadpanned.
His 10-room Northeast Heights home spills over with his work.
“I’m finally at the point where I have no place to hang my sculpture,” Burkard said. “My friends call it a museum.”