My work tells stories. I aim to capture the richness and brutality of the stories and bring them into the world of still images. From a Willem de Kooning piece, you would tease out a line from layers of paint, implied here, meandering, becoming thicker and almost disappearing. In the same way, a narrative is a physical thing, moving across boundaries, weaving together independent sensations.
I started making work about Jonestown because I thought of a way to expand the conventional narrative, and I wanted to explore it. When I make a drawing or painting as part of my Jonestown series, I take on the persona of a person from Jonestown. In between acting and channeling, this challenges me to act in ways I don’t expect. The finished work, when displayed, says it is a genuine cultural artifact, yet it slowly reveals itself to the contrary. That process of misgiving, doubt, and rejection are meant to mirror the process of rejecting a set of ideas.
I’m still producing the Jonestown series, and I’m often surprised at both the amount of research it requires and the savage feeling it sometimes produces. When and where they will finally be displayed is still in flux, but the next time you see a Jonestown artifact, look twice. My message from Jonestown is how smart, good people can be trapped in something that ends up being destructive. Question everything.
(Nick Burgess can be reached at email@example.com.)