By Emily Klingman
Proving you don’t have to be a punk to enjoy it, one of Rider University’s professors had two of his paintings accepted into the Trenton Punk Rock Flea Market’s art exhibit, Against the Grain — The Art of the Counterculture.
Although Robert Burger, assistant professor of communication, has never attended the market himself, he submitted the work because he felt it fit in with the type of art the organizers were looking to show.
“It’s really interesting work, not the usual stuff you might see, stuff that’s kind of on edge.” he said. “My work is kind of different. I don’t know if I’d describe it as punk-y, but it’s surrealistic, kind of edgy.”
Burger described the works shown as “interesting” and “imaginative.” The organizers collected a wide range of media displayed in the show, like assemblage and charcoal drawings.
Addison Vincent, exhibits coordinator for Artworks, an art center in Trenton, explained that the show’s goal was to highlight great artists whose works aren’t typically shown in art galleries. Many of these artists are independent artists and create their work to sell in flea markets like the one in Trenton and the Punk Rock Flea Market in Asbury Park.
“The whole show itself was based off of the counterculture, and how punk has influenced visual arts,” said Vincent. “So a lot of people thought that the works were just going to be punk inspired, but that’s not what the show is about. The show is about the counterculture, the do-it-yourself (DIY) ethic of make it and sell it, so that you have a few bucks in your pocket to hit the bars.”
For his own work, Burger said his two paintings were a part of a surrealistic series of animals playing musical instruments. One of the paintings was a duo of an ostrich playing an obo and a baboon playing a bassoon, where “they’re sort of dressed in what you’d expect classical musicians to wear, like tuxedos, but they’re playing in a kind of decrepit New York subway,” he said.
The other painting in the art show was a trio of a pig playing the accordion, a rooster singing and a cow playing the tuba. Burger said, “That one has kind of a Tex-Mex feel to it.”
Also completed in the series is a third painting of a solo alligator playing a banjo. Currently, Burger is working on a fourth painting, one of a quartet of animals.
“It’s a string quartet of dinosaurs who are kind of dressed in Baroque-era costumes, and playing violins and a viola,” Burger said. “That one’s maybe halfway finished; I still got quite a bit to do on that. And then after that we’re doing a quintet. I’m kind of working my way up.”
Burger explained that he is drawn to these kinds of unusual subjects that make viewers stop and take an extra second to consider the work. For him, it’s not about creating something pretty for people to admire.
“I just tend to gravitate towards things that are more imaginative and surrealistic where there’s some sort of concept going on,” he said. “I usually try and create things that make people think a little bit. They look at it and say, ‘Oh, why is this here?’ ‘Why is that there?’ So more surrealistic and more conceptual rather than just ‘Here’s a pretty picture of a barn,’ ‘Here’s a pretty picture of some flowers.’ I try and take it a step further. There’s a story there.”
He said it all started from his time as a freelance illustrator when he was younger. It instilled in him a desire to create a story within his work.
“In the work for myself, I try and tell a story,” Burger said. “So there’s some sort of story going on, and it’s up to the individual viewer as for how they interpret it. I know what I kind of thought of, but what I like is that people can look at my work and come up with their own interpretation or invent their own story that goes along with the visuals.”
After attending the opening event, Burger felt that his students would greatly benefit from seeing local art shows like this one.
“I think Rider students would [enjoy it],” he said. “Our new chairman, Shawn Kildea, was at the opening and we were talking about possibly trying to schedule field trips to some art exhibits for the classes I teach. So that’s something I’ll be looking into, finding some local shows that would be interesting and also relate to what we’re doing in class.”
Vincent said that after seeing the show, college students would be drawn to the “absolutely incredible” atmosphere and the welcoming sprit of the art scene in Trenton.
“The people are very warm and inviting, and a lot of times people think of the punk scene/counterculture as closed off and very introverted, but it’s not,” he said. “All of us are extremely open and willing to share our talents with people, and we like to have fun. That’s one of the number one things, you got to balance your work and play time, and I think we do a good job at mixing the two.”
Printed in the 9/07/16 issue.