20 Minutes With Christian Burchard

Monday 9 July 2018

1. You work in many mediums other than wood, which do you prefer, and why?

I have played with a few other mediums in conjunction with wood, but wood is definitely my first love. I've worked with steel, silver and copper, combined them with wooden elements, but it is not easy to bring them together with wood. And they are even harder to sell. I just get along with wood the best, we argue some, but overall… These days I just about only use green madrone, either burl or rootstock, and even some straight-grain here and there. I just love what it can do, how it moves, and how we can actually work together. There is no end of surprises, mostly good ones.

2. You are famed for your work in wet wood and madrone, especially your basket forms, where do you gain the inspiration for these pieces?

The properties of green madrone make it wonderful to turn, and how much this material moves as it is drying informs my work a great deal. The baskets are really such a simple, basic form; turning these forms allows the wood to show itself in all its beautiful aspects. The shape is reminiscent of old Native American baskets and the idea to use them in families or groups came about after seeing some of Dale Chihuly’s blown glass basket-forms

3. Your work is also very sculptural and unique in shape, why did you choose this specific route?

I was trained as a furniture maker in Germany before I moved to the States where I then studied sculpture for a couple of years. I am, in some ways, influenced by many sculptors, from Brancusi, to Moore, to David Nash – whose work I like very much. I am very interested in gesture, in movement and especially in relationships. Quite a few pieces are figurative in a minimal kind of way. Working primarily with a wood that is so powerful and unpredictable in itself brings so many possibilities. There are thin pieces bending and moving and more solid, thick parts revealing the most beautiful cracking patterns. To this I then add bleaching, burning and even some tattoo-like burning patterns.

4. Where do you see your work heading in the future?

I have consistently tried to see how far I can push my material. I make a lot of maquettes. Every little left over piece of madrone gets cut into yet another model or idea. And if there is promise in the small scale, then I proceed to making bigger ones. This approach works for me. I might work even more on some stylised writing texture, more burn patterns – bleaching and burning are just natural components of working with wood – and maybe make some larger pieces again.

5. Tell us about the piece you are currently working on.

Right now I am really excited by a group of pieces that use only the roots of the tree. It is a very unpredictable material. There might be three or four roots running through a block and the changes that can happen as it dries are phenomenal. I carve with a reciprocating carver along the growth lines and add some designs, let it dry and then bleach it and burn it in such a way that the grooves stay white while the rest of the surface gets a mottled black colouration. I am finding this very exciting.

6. Which three items/equipment in your workshop could you not do without?

Firstly there is my bandsaw. It's a 815mm (32in) Silver out of Ohio. When I researched it, I found that the last castings where done in 1910. It's a real heavy-duty piece of equipment, but old and worn. Then there is my chainsaw and, of course, my trusty Oneway lathe. I do need all of these.

7. What book and what music are you currently into?

Let's see, right now I am reading The Deer Goddess of Ancient Siberia, by Esther Jacobson. Her work is really heavy-duty stuff about the imagery of early Scythian nomads. Then Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon, and also his book, Kavalier and Clay. Then more Scythian stuff. Music wise, anything played by Tanariwen (Tuareg, Mali); Lagrimas Negras by Bebo and Cigala; Iranian Music by Ali Akbar Moradi; and then there is always Rory Gallagher to get me moving.

8. If you could invite any one in the world to an afternoon of turning with you, who would it be, and why?

I would probably choose Greg Wilbur who is a metal smith and a close friend, who taught me a lot about working copper and silver. We probably won't be turning much, but bouncing lots of ideas off each other, drawing on big pieces of paper and making models. We work well together.

9. Which turners do you most admire, and why?

Bill Hunter is high up on my list. With all the success he has had over the years he is still open to experimenting and bringing out fresh, new work. He is not afraid of failure. I admire the body of work that Michael Peterson has produced over the years. He does not turn any more, but his aesthetic is still very attractive to me. And some of the younger guys, like George Peterson, and some French artists are making very interesting work – such as Thierry Martenon, Marc Ricourt and Pascal Oudet.

10. What do you think the future holds for turning?

There is lot of interesting experimentation going on. I assume that the medium will be stretched more and more. A few people are moving into a more sculptural direction, using the lathe just as one of many possible tools in the shop. This might open the field up a bit more, which is a good thing, I think.