Timothy Burke, Detroit Industrial Gallery

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About the Artist/Site

Burke was born and raised in Detroit; his local family roots stretch back to his great-grandfather, who was renowned for his plaster work on Detroit’s emblematic Fox Theater. Burke’s father, too, was an artist – a blacksmith and a sculptor, and both the facility for technical work and a strong aesthetic sense were passed down to the young Timothy. As a youth he studied drawing as well as metal fabrication and welding; later, he developed a substance abuse problem, but then rediscovered art which, he says, “saved my ass.” In 2000 Burke purchased his own home/studio – the Detroit Industrial Gallery – on Heidelberg Street in downtown Detroit. The seller, artist Carl Schneider, had had his own outside sculpture garden at that site, and as early as 1986 Burke would come to hang out with Schneider and his friend Jim Puntingham, another Detroit artist, to sketch and paint.

Burke built upon this historical background for the site, enjoying the liberties afforded that zone resulting from the early indifference of the municipal authorities as well as the adjacent work of neighbor (and sometime collaborator) Tyree Guyton to adorn and ornament his buildings and create a variety of site-specific sculpture that he displays in both interior and exterior spaces. Drawing on his metal fabrication/construction skills and working primarily with found objects that he has “rescued” from local historical buildings, he describes his art as having an essential element of “preservation with anthropological underpinnings.” These can take animal or human forms, but also include assemblage work in two- and three-dimensions that may be freestanding or affixed to the façades of his buildings (he now owns five lots on Heidelberg Street).  Many are painted in bright colors – as are the façades of the houses themselves. He has commented, “I think there is a spirit or life with healing capabilities in all these relics when taking them from the discarded and giving them a new life….The process of renovation and preservation has a social and psychological and spiritual dimension to it, which always keeps me looking for more.” He memorializes the granite slabs that came from the rehabilitation of the Detroit Institute of Arts, the marble slab that once graced the steps of the Detroit College of Law, and metal components that were rescued from the demolition of the iconic Hudson’s Department Store, among those from many other distinguished architectural riches that are now just memories. Using recycled materials in this way “represents the possibility of rebirth from destruction,” he observes.

While concentrating on his artwork, Burke has also become very involved with local nonprofits and community projects, often donating discrete artworks to a variety of community fundraisers. He has worked as a substance abuse counselor and art therapist, in addition to such other jobs as display fabricator, and has exhibited and sold his sculptures, jewelry, and furniture at a variety of local venues, among them the Michigan Legacy Art Park. And, like many others in his troubled city, he is committed to the reality of a rebuilt and re-energized Detroit that honors its past while looking to its future.

~Jo Farb Hernández

Map and site information

3647 Heidelberg Street
Detroit, Michigan, United States
Latitude/Longitude: 42.358636 / -83.021834


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