Greg Burak

New York

at Fortnight Institute

Greg Burak: Close Your Eyes and Think of Two Questions, 2018, oil on canvas, 40 by 30 inches; at Fortnight Institute.

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Though sedate in atmosphere, the paintings in Greg Burak’s exhibition (all 2018) trembled with expectant energy. At first glance, they read as straightforward domestic tableaux populated with figures decked out in a 1970s aesthetic—cardigans, flared pants, shaggy hairstylesbut each soon revealed some type of paranormal activity occurring at the heart of the scene. Burak (b. 1986) deftly conjures the particular sense of exhilaration and terror—the stillness—that can accompany flirtations with the other side, while also offering compositions that are compelling on strictly formal terms.

The show centered on eight medium-size oils on canvas. Close Your Eyes and Think of Two Questions depicts a young man in a pink sweater standing in a sunlit room facing a seated figure who is partially obscured by an empty bookcase. The work’s title suggests that we are seeing the preparation for a séance or other occult activity—a reading supported by the palmistry hand and crystal ball standing on a desk in the background. In Astral Projection, a semitransparent man glimpsed through a window appears to be in the process of materializing post-teleportation. Small bits of his face echo nearby, as if catching up with the rest of his body.

Employing a palette of largely neutral hues, Burak creates sensitive tonal shifts and depictions of rich shadows and colorful light. He also shows himself to be a nimble draftsman, producing selective moments of distortion that help convey the impression of otherworldly forces infiltrating the settings. Before homing in on the specific details present in Greetings, one senses that something is amiss. The painting shows a room containing three figures and a cat with somewhat warped postures. A potted tree bends toward the doorway, drawing one’s attention to a winged, cloven-footed visitor just barely visible outside. The creature is seen in fuller form in one of the various small studies for the paintings that were also on view.

Burak’s commitment to perceptual painting and his close reading of Renaissance frescoes contribute to his ability to create uncanny yet believable happenings within ordinary worlds. The psychic event under way in Telekinesis unfolds amid a bland interior with a large picture window framed by pale yellow curtains. Three figures are gathered around a table: two holding cards and a third touching her temples and appearing to concentrate on the tabletop, where a pencil begins to levitate and an overturned vase provides evidence of a previous attempt. In such paintings, Burak offers not only a fascinating conceptual world but an exercise in pictorial harmony by cleverly playing the esoteric undercurrent against the most quotidian details.