Rocket man

Dean Burton

Dean Burton at Bibo Coffee, next to one of his weird, science fiction-inspired photos.

Dean Burton at Bibo Coffee, next to one of his weird, science fiction-inspired photos.

Photo By brad Bynum

Bibo Three Gallery

945 Record St.
Reno, NV 89512

(775) 348-8087

A popular local coffee shop, Bibo Coffee Company, recently opened a third location near the University of Nevada, Reno, in the old Record Street Café building. This new location also serves as an art gallery.

“We want it to be treated like a gallery space, and not just a coffee shop that happens to have art,” says Jen Graham, a barista at Bibo, who’s also an artist and serves as the curator of the venue.

For Bibo’s first unique exhibition of new work, Graham drafted Dean Burton, a professor of art and photography at Truckee Meadows Community College. Burton is a prolific and well-respected artist—primarily of photography—who has been exhibiting regularly throughout Northern Nevada for the last 12 years.

In recent years, his work has primarily been concerned with formal composition—carefully composed still-life photographs of horizontal blocks of color or antiquated pieces of technology, like old vacuum tubes.

But his current exhibition at Bibo, which opened on March 1, marks a shift in a fantastical direction.

“I’ve been watching a lot of science fiction,” says Burton.

The individual pieces in the exhibition are untitled, but the exhibition itself is titled No Space for Rockets, a title that plays on the various meanings of the word “space.”

“It’s so vague,” says Burton. “It could mean a lot of things. Are the rockets grounded? Or there wasn’t enough room for them?”

For the first time, Burton made extensive use of Photoshop and digital processing for this work. He dug out old photographs he took of vacuum tubes, landscapes and camera equipment and altered them so they appear like objects out of science fiction: planets, spaceships, flying saucers or mysterious extraterrestrial orbs.

The images don’t explicitly represent these fantasy objects; they neatly split the difference between kitschy science fiction imagery and abstract, formal compositions. There’s also a distinct sense of motion.

“It’s like an explosion or a happening,” says Burton.

One image is a photograph of an old camera part recast as some kind of Buck Rogers ray gun. But it’s unclear what the original purpose of the object could have been. The viewer can identify it as a physical object, without knowing the function of the object. It’s not like when you see a picture of, say, a telephone. You say, “Hey, that’s a telephone,” and then you move on with your life. These images have more mystery, and therefore hold more intrigue for the curious viewer.

Burton likes to take an image of something mechanical and manipulate it until it looks organic: one image of a vacuum tube looks like some kind of alien insect orifice. One large image looks a mechanical explosive up close, but stand back a few feet—you might want to step into the bathroom directly across from it—and it looks more formal and organic, like a flower or snowflake.

Many of the pieces feature Saturn-like concentric circles. It might seem like a composition so perfectly centered might relax the eye, but the circles seem to pulse and fluctuate, shifting weight, the background and foreground refusing to resolve. It’s the perfect thing to stare at for half an hour after drinking a few too many cups of coffee.