Fahd Burki, Affinity, 2020, wood, acrylic gesso, 29 3/4 × 22 7/8".

Fahd Burki, Affinity, 2020, wood, acrylic gesso, 29 3/4 × 22 7/8".

Fahd Burki

Fahd Burki sits in his studio on the outskirts of Lahore, Pakistan, and tunes in to the sounds that encircle him: the call of the Asian koel, the drone of distant traffic. Burki works slowly, sometimes making only four or five pieces a year, and though he thinks in images he spends much of his time immersed in the world of sound. Situated between analog and digital, his sonic influences include ambient musicians Brian Eno, Steve Roach, and Hiroshi Yoshimura. Their music uses both acoustic and electronic instruments and emphasizes sustained tones. One doesn’t hear much variation or progression in these musicians’ soundscapes, but rather senses a pervasive stillness and spaciousness.

Understanding the nature of Burki’s musical interests provides an angle from which to approach the paintings in his recent exhibition “Minutes before I fall asleep.” In Affinity, 2020, for example, we saw a whitewashed rectangular wooden block, hung on the wall like a painting. It is formed of four panels whose abutment creates three clean horizontal lines, each interrupted by a small triangular spike or arrow and held in place by an unpainted wooden slat on either side. The resultant image reminds one of the recording of a pulsation, like an EKG. Affinity demands a slow engagement and does not fix one’s attention but, like ambient music, encourages one’s focus to drift and articulates a different sense of time. The title of Dwelling (grey), 2020, suggests that this kind of temporality has to do with remaining in the moment—but the painting itself also stays true to the primary sense of the word dwelling in that it gestures toward the idea of architecture. Incisions along its gray cuboid structure could denote the plan of a Brutalist building or some new kind of technological device.

In such works, Burki explores the space between painting and sculpture. The pieces also share an emphasis on materiality and weight, palpable in A tribe of one’s own, 2020. This piece consists of two canvases, one above the other, separated by a thin, H-shaped wooden frame that leaves the top and bottom edges of the diptych open. While the frame is embellished by the slightest of navy-blue, dark-brown, and white linear markings, the canvases themselves have been washed with a transparent primer, revealing their natural jute color and inherent graininess. In their subtle ways, these three works are at once nostalgic and futuristic, in keeping with the atmospheric genre of music Burki favors.

These semisculptural works hung near a set of earlier paintings, among them Untitled 1 and Grey Tablet, both 2018, with even sparser, more minimal forms. Using geometric blocks of light beige and gray in the simplest of palettes—the sand-and-concrete palette of Dubai, come to think of it—these paintings point to another of the artist’s preoccupations: exposing the essence of the medium being used. Quiet and contemplative, they are in keeping not only with Western and Japanese ambient music but also with musical forms from South Asia that employ the concept of the khali (the empty note, or pause between notes, in classical music from the subcontinent) and ideas of absence and balance. They suggest an open space that sits between two breaths or two phases of work. The title “Minutes before I fall asleep” could be read as referring to hypnagogia, the transitional stage between wakefulness and sleep; its abstraction of stories and sounds conveys an intermediary state of consciousness.