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Laguna Beach Art Magazine

February 2015


Experiencing the Controlled Chaos of Fatemeh Burnes

by Kimberly Johnson

Artists often practice what can only be described as “controlled chaos.” The phrase is distinguished by a seemingly frenzied method of execution by the artist and an inability on the part of the audience to grasp the method. It’s a multi-layered experience shared by creator and audience alike, a game of Rorschach testing outside of the usual clinical setting. In another sense, it’s an ingeniously crafted practice that challenges both the artist and the viewer.


For an artist such as Fatemeh Burnes—who excels in the act of creating chaotically strung imagery with definite technical form, thought and structure—the term is especially appropriate when examining her photographic work.


Burnes’s recent body of images, Transluminants, begun in 2012, is a breathtaking walk through a seemingly shattering inspiration. Having undergone radiation therapy, Burnes found a space for light and movement. The series spans black and white images as well as vibrantly colored works in mandarin orange, fuchsia, violet and candy pink tones. It also screams movement, fire and light while whispering of the need for escape and stability. Sensations of controlled chaos emanate from the work even after repeated viewings. The series is an analysis of our humanity just as much as it is a guided tour of the unknown, the dream world, the make-believe and the beyond.


When Burnes first branched out into photography in the 1980s, she used analog film. She found her light in the darkroom, a space of creative exploration and artistic comfort. She later made the transition to digital photography as her favored photographic medium. With it, she developed a love for digital manipulation and an interest in creating moments and scenes that illustrate her often fluctuating medley of emotions.


An educated artist as well as a well-traveled individual, Burnes senses the necessity of engaging with art through varying forms and by allowing it to flourish in her life in multiple ways. Born in Iran’s largest city, Tehran, she made her first trip to the United States in 1973 as a teenager. She spent the next several years globetrotting through three continents before settling in in Southern California in 1977.


Burnes teaches fine arts, design and art history, embedding knowledge in the minds of young pupils at CSU Fullerton, Laguna Beach College of Art + Design, and the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising. She is an equally respected painter, displaying the same chaotically controlled execution found in her photography. She has worked as both a gallery director and a curator, lending her hand to programs that deal with public art. On top of the energy she has expended in teaching, curating, painting and photographing, she has found time to compile work for two books, drift and Imprints of Nature and Human Nature. In short, Burnes is an artist’s artist, surrounding herself with all things aesthetically appealing, mentally expanding and creatively gratifying while at the same time offering others the opportunity to do the same.


Even after her prestigious accolades and her international exhibitions, it feels as though Burnes’s career is just starting. Perhaps the key lies in her artist statement: “I am interested in problem-solving, not solving problems. An ingrained impulse to discover, explore, and invent drives my creative process. The science of art-making fascinates me. I make art not just to produce objects, but also to explore phenomena, whether they occur in the world or in my dreams, as thoughts in my mind or rocks on the ground.”

Kimberly Johnson



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