Greg Burak’s narrative-based paintings depict a mysterious world with a 70s vibe

7 August 2017

New York-based artist Greg Burak’s interest in art was first sparked by book covers, album art and movies and television growing up, but it wasn’t until college that he started to look deeper into art history. The artist’s work is based heavily in narrative using shapes, colour and figures to tell his stories. “Lately I’ve been in love with early Renaissance painting. The more I look at them the more exciting they become, both in terms of the logic in constructing those paintings but also how they depicted supernatural narratives,” the artist says of his inspiration. “I keep going back to Stanley Kubrick’s films as well -– they are so particular and almost hypnotic.”

There’s a distinct 70s vibe to Greg’s work with the fashion and interiors providing a nostalgic nod to the decade through colour palette and geometric shapes. “I think of the people in my paintings as mystical dabblers and the 1970s seemed like a strange and exploratory time,” he says. “The aesthetic was very bold – all those great shapes, colours and lines. They are terrific visual elements. I like to use a muted palette with a few notes of bright colour, and the design of that period lends itself to that.”

Working in oils, acrylics and sometimes gouache, Greg’s paintings are constructed as single scenes that often feel as though they’re on the cusp of action. The artist sees painting as a problem-solving exercise and it means he considers the individual elements of each work. “Composition is the most challenging part of it for me. I sometimes think of the paintings as if they were pinball machines. I’ll ask myself: ‘How can I bounce around in this painting? What takes you where? In what order?’ It’s like an endless puzzle and each one presents a different set of challenges.”

After coming up with an idea, Greg creates a lot of preparatory work and then transfers it to the larger painting, and he’s started to adapt his process to incorporate more digital methods. “I’ll photograph the painting, make changes to it digitally and apply that to the physical piece. Sometimes I’ll repeat that process many times over,” he explains. “It gives me the freedom to make big changes really fast, or undo them just as quickly.”

There’s a touch of ambiguity to Greg’s work and the artist encourages this uncertainty. “I like the beginning of stories – the part where an event occurs that changes the direction of the character’s path. I try to make paintings that are a set-up for an unknown future.”


Greg Burak: Amateur Vampire Hunters


Greg Burak: Man vs Dogs


Greg Burak: Secret Message


Greg Burak: Ghost Hands


Greg Burak: Blindfolder


Greg Burak: The Contract


Greg Burak: The Bird


Greg Burak: Bad Sounds


Greg Burak: Doppleganger

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About the Author

Rebecca Fulleylove

Rebecca Fulleylove is a freelance writer and editor specialising in art, design and culture. She is also senior writer at Creative Review, having previously worked at Elephant, Google Arts & Culture, and It’s Nice That.

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