I first met artist W. Carl Burger several weeks after moving to New Jersey in 2001. I’d come to produce features for State of the Arts. 9/11 happened during my drive east from Michigan and, soon afterwards, I found myself at Carl’s North Jersey home in the woods. We filmed a profile and interview while Carl was creating large watercolors of the fallen Twin Towers.
W. Carl Burger, a much-loved New Jersey artist and teacher, died February 21 at the age of 97. We are honored to have called him our friend and we celebrate the life of a wonderful artist, teacher, and human being.
Carl was the first to admit that he loved to experiment with various media and styles. He was sometimes criticized for it, but undauntedly and exuberantly created expressive oils, portraits and abstracts, massive landscapes in watercolor, collages, and intricate graphite drawings. Nature was a life-long inspiration. An enormous watercolor at Brielle on the Jersey Shore was the only painting in recent years by a living artist at the New Jersey Governor’s mansion, Drumthwacket.
Carl did not shy away from controversy. His Papal Series from the 1970s, for example, took aim at the Catholic Church and its stance on birth control. The large graphite drawings depict the Pope with exploding eyes! At other times, he took aim at fellow academics and pretentious artists.
Fundamentally, however, Carl was gregarious, always young-at-heart, positive, and very social. Forced isolation during the pandemic was a kind of torture, he told me. At the height of the lockdown, the Morris Museum mounted a stunning retrospective exhibition of Carl’s work, seen by too few people due to the lockdown. Spanning decades, the exhibition included two early watercolors created while an American soldier in France at the end of WWII, abstract works in oil, collage, and the Papal series.
State of the Arts produced several features about Carl going all the way back to 1987. The 2020 Morris Museum exhibition, however, inspired us to produce a stand-alone documentary, and it is with great pleasure that we share that film with you now. As you’ll see, W. Carl Burger was not only an incredible artist and teacher, but also a wonderful storyteller. Enjoy!