Chris Burnett has always had an affinity for hummingbirds, but in recent years he has felt their presence increasing. “I felt like they were following me, like they knew where I was at some point,” he says, in an interview just before the opening of his very first gallery show, Humming-birdat the Fisk Gallery in northeast Portland.
In early 2020, before the pandemic, on the last day of a week-long ayahuasca retreat in Costa Rica, a hummingbird flew into the room where Burnett was stumbling. “Oh, looks like you want me to notice you here,” he said to the bird.
As he tells the hummingbird story, a woman walks up and asks Burnett to sign a hat she just bought — a collaborative product he created with Fisk for the show. (“It’s the first time this has happened to me,” he promised.) It’s embroidered with a logo that matches the necklace Burnett wears; her other collar spells out “hummingbird”, the word for hummingbird in several Romance languages.
“The more I noticed them, the more I started to see a parallel between my behavior and theirs. idea of where they’re going,” says Burnett. “I realized that I kind of functioned like that. I don’t put myself forward a lot.”
The collection of mixed collages exhibited in Humming-bird until December 4 recall the illustrations that Burnett published in pages of the New York Times to Harvard Business Review, and on the clothes worn by some of the biggest musical heavyweights of the past decade. Odd Future’s dripping donut logo was Burnett’s first claim to fame, and recently he designed for Kendrick Lamar and Pulitzer-winning rapper cousin/protege Baby Keem.
Burnett has made a living so far as a graphic designer, fleshing out the ideas of others, but only occasionally invited to contribute his own. “At the end of the day, they hire me for what I can do, but they want Something,” he says. The freedom to bring your own perspective to contract work has increased, but it’s still a balancing act between meeting someone else’s needs.
Walk in Humming-bird. An aversion to the gallery system, Burnett admits, has held back his fine art practice so far, but he says he now feels like the right time to put more energy into this corner of his career. He studied graphic design at the California Institute of the Arts with Fisk founder Bijan. Berahimi and the two moved to Portland together after school in 2014, bringing their team of young designers into orbit around Nike. Now Burnett is back in his hometown of Los Angeles, but a growing desire to put on a show aligned with Berahimi’s recently restarted gallery space, which is used to showing artists with a background in client design work.
“I wanted it to be a takeover experience,” says Burnett. “It’s not just like, ‘Here’s the artwork.’ It’s like, ‘Here’s the artwork. We also did the merchandising. We did all the promo for it. We did the photo shoots ourselves, the video interviews. It’s like we We were back at school doing a project together.
“He wants to create his own world, you know? And he has the ability to design everything around him,” says Berahimi. “All layers [of the show] are enhanced because he is involved in all aspects.
The opening reception, with three DJ sets, an open bar, and a food cart parked out front, delivered on the promise of an immersive experience. A series of Fisk-designed T-shirts, hats and skateboards brought the work out of the walls and into the hands of the viewer, and tThe collages themselves bring Burnett’s digital design to tactile life. What appears transparent when digitally rendered and printed on a shirt or tour poster now has layers and manufacturing marks. A mix of iridescent gradients, shiny mirrored patches and high-contrast hummingbird images – some whole, some fragmented, some consisting of only negative space – make up the bulk of the show. Burnett extracted textures from iPhone photos by scanning, printing and enlarging them before cutting them into crisp, jagged shapes reminiscent of swooping bird necks and slicing wings.
As it opens, old friends pass by, hugging and calling Burnett “Mr. Hollywood,” then ask where he’s been. “I’m secretive, nobody knows what I’m doing until I show up,” Burnett tells me. He achieved his success without the megaphone of social networks.
“He always put work first and wanted work to be the reason people give him praise,” Berahimi says. “It’s frustrating, because I want more people to find out.”
It’s true, Burnett’s work has been mostly behind the scenes, until now. Professionally, Humming-bird marks his exit from behind the screen.