Thursday, February 23, 2012

Artist Interview: The Whimsical Realism of Contemporary Painter Brian Burt

"The Joker"
Brian Burt
Pastel on Panel
18" x 24"
Brian Burt has a uniquely contemporary take on the still life genre painted in a somewhat traditional style.  His paintings are imbued with an undeniable sense of humor and joy for the wacky aspects of daily life.  Brian earned his BFA in painting from Miami University in Oxford, OH in 1998.  He then went on to serve a three year apprenticeship at The Atelier School of Fine Arts in Minneapolis.  An incredibly versatile artist, Burt says his goal is not to be labeled a “Figurative Painter”, a “Still Life Painter”, or a “Landscape Painter” but simply a painter of what he sees, whether that’s in front of his eyes or in the back of his mind.  His work was included in the annual “21 Over 31” feature in the November 2009 issue of Southwest Art, and he currently exhibits his paintings at the Cincinnati Art Galleries and The 5th Street Gallery in Ohio, and at The Artist House Gallery in Philadelphia.                                                                                                                                                                                               
What’s on your easel right now?  Can you tell me about your works 
in progress and how they fit in with your body of work?
Along with what I usually put onto DPW what is on my easel right now are a series of small still lifes with a somewhat different lighting setup than I usually use. These guys are lit from above rather than from the traditional left or right. The objects are varied but I am starting to use book more and more. Usually ones that have interesting spines. The pieces are really built around what is on the cover or spine of the book.

"Song of Solanum"
Brian Burt
Pastel on Panel
24" x 18"
A sly sense of humor is apparent in almost all of your paintings.  Is this just a natural reflection of your personality or something you strive to create?  If I bumped into you on the street for the first time would I walk away thinking you’re a funny guy?

Well, I'm not sure if you bumped into to me you'd find me funny . . . my wife usually just gives me an eye roll for most of my so called humor. I would rather say I'm fairly sarcastic. I like to poke people, gently, to get a reaction that would be out of their norm. I find you really can tell the type of person you're in front of when you get them outside of their emotional work clothes. So my work has a bit of that in it. I am traditionally trained but I try to paint non traditional subjects not only for the viewer but for myself as well, to push me out of the norm and to give me a challenge.

What artists or art movements influenced or affected you?
This is a tough one. To be honest it changes from year to year, though the touchstones that have always been with me are a literal eclectic mess of painters. Jean Leon Gerome, French Academic Orientalist, a man with such a mastery of technique that he was able to paint scenes of the Roman Colosseum with gladiators and lions having no possible way of actually seeing them. He was limited only by his imagination. Chuck Close for taking realism in the 60's and pushing it into something new, fresh and wonderfully interesting. Vermeer for having such a wonderful command of color and composition and giving the world of a sneak peek at what his time and studio looked like. Alan Magee, paintings of simple quiet still lifes that seem to resonate with life.

"Young Love"
Brian Burt
Oil on Panel
7" x 5"
You had a very formal education in art, first earning your BFA and then completing an apprenticeship at The Atelier School.  You’ve obviously worked hard to hone your skills as a painter.  Do you recommend young would-be artists follow the “academic” route?  Why or why not?

If you are determined to be a painter there is simply no comparison to a liberal arts degree (traditional art college) and the 8-10 hrs a day M-F of drawing and painting that you get at an "Atelier" based program. When I started searching for one of these in early 2000 there was really only 5-7 schools active in the US, now there are dozens.

You started out painting in oils, then moved to pastels, and then back to oils again.  What is it about the different mediums that you enjoy?  Do you work in different mediums depending on the piece?  Why?

Pastel is straight and pure color mixed on the painting surface, no messing around the with palette, sinking in of dark colors, or drying times. You can get some very fine results pushing the pigment around on the surface. Oils are a different beast though when it comes to color. . .  where you need a full compliment of 300-1000 pastels to really be able to paint anything that is in front of you with oils I have 15 tubes or so of paint. The entire spectrum is right there on my palette. I rarely do pastels anymore,  the occasional commissioned portrait but for the most part it's all oils now. They are cleaner and easier to ship (no glass.) Both are simply tools to interpret and record what's in front of you. IE: pencil, typewriter, or computer for a writer.

"White February"
Brian Burt
Pastel on Panel
5" x 12"
Tell me a little about your creative process.  You seem to easily bounce from figurative work to still life and landscape subjects.  What do you look for in a subject?  Is there an initial spark that ignites you?  Do you ever paint on location or do you mainly use photographs as references?  Do you keep a sketchbook?

For my still lifes 99.9% is directly from life. If you see something hovering or impossibly balanced in one of my pieces it is tied to a string and suspended from my ceiling or glued there. The landscapes are a mixture of plein eir painting and photo reference, and the portraits are usually 99% from photos. I simply don't have a large enough studio to have people come in and sit. The inspiration usually comes from one object that I build a piece around for the still lifes, the landscapes are 100% a gut reaction to what I think looks interesting or beautiful, and the portraits are more or less the same as the landscapes, but I am looking for 'unusual' facial expressions or poses, that makes it different or unique to look at.

What size/scale do you usually work in?  How long do you spend on a 

typical painting?

For DPW the 5x7 and 6x6 formats are the standard. The landscapes and loose figurative work usually goes between 1-2 hrs. The still lifes are a crap shoot. They can go anywhere from 3-7 hrs depending on the subject matter. My other works can get fairly complicated some finished 5x7 still lifeless can take 15-20 hrs, the 8x10's can go up to 40, and the larger pieces can take weeks to finish.

"Green Memories"
Brian Burt
Oil on Panel
7" x 5"
You’re very active in the Daily Painting Movement and show and sell your smaller work on your blog Art4Diapers and the Daily Paint Works site.  What is it about the idea of painting daily that inspires you, and have you found selling these smaller paintings to be beneficial to your career and development as an artist?

DPW and the daily painting movement have been fantastic to me not only financially but also in honing my painting skills. Three years ago when i started  doing daily paintings I was getting back into oils and had still some speed and color issues that I needed to work out. The progression of my work and the level that I am at now could not of been achieved without doing these small pieces. Doing 20-30 larger oils in that time could not have given me the skills and confidence as doing almost 300 smaller pieces in that same amount of time.
Are there times when you can’t be creative or the paint just isn’t flowing?  How do you handle periods of artist block?.

Definitely, I just have to get out of the studio. Read, take rides or walks with my daughter, just do something other than paint. When I come back I find that I have a clear set of eyes and am ready to go again. I am not a fan of nose down grind your way through it, this attitude is for manual labor (which many of the jobs in and out of college I had to do.)

How do you know when a painting is finished?  Is it sometimes hard 

for you to decide a work is complete?

With the more painterly pieces I simply stand back and ask myself if it is conveying the scene or idea concisely and clearly (ie: a quote or a poem,) With the more tightly painted pieces I stand back and ask myself "Is this believable?" I am not going for photo realism but I am going for a sense of reality within the confines of the panel. (ie. a well written description of a scene that doesn't include how many leaves are on the tree or scratches in the wood on the table.)

"Last Bit of Light"
Brian Burt
Pastel on Panel
5" x 12"
What support do you like to paint on?  Do you prepare and prime 
your own canvas or panels?  Do you use any particular painting mediums 

(damar, linseed oil, liquin, alkyd gel, etc.)?

I almost exclusively use Ampersand Gessoboard, though at times I do prepare my own supports on Ampersands hardboard or 1/4 MDF primed with 3-5 coats of sanded gesso.

What do you think makes the difference in becoming established as 
an artist, and what advice do you have for young and emerging artists 

looking to develop a career?

My two cents is that you need to learn about as many techniques and materials as you can to form your own artistic toolbox. You can study with this guy or read a book on painting by the lady but if this is all you know then you can never hope to anything more than a cheap carbon copy of that which you have attached yourself to. Once you are technically competent all of the painting issues like loose or tight, big or small, heavily or thinly become background noise to the overall question of "What makes this work unique to me." Understanding though there are few uncharted frontiers in representational painting you don't always have to live in the same city that everyone else has chosen to live in, if the country is in your heart that's where your head should be as well. Find what interests you and figure out how you want to communicate it. Then the worries of establishing yourself will be fewer and fewer. If what you say on the canvas (or panel) is well thought out, well executed, and well marketed (put in front of enough eyes to see it) you won’t have issues getting established.

"Instamatic Orange"
Brian Burt
Pastel on Panel
8" x 6"
Do you teach or lead workshops?  Do you feel that teaching helps 
an artist develop, and if so, in what ways?

Very seldom. I don't begrudge people wanting to teach workshops, but I must say I rarely, if ever, come out of one that I taught with knowledge that I couldn't have as easily obtained at my easel in my studio. I think workshops should be taught (and are taught) for financial reasons and/or because the artists teaching sincerely wants to impart some of what they know onto others.

What’s next?  Do you have any current or upcoming exhibitions of 
your work?  Any special projects you’re involved in right now?

Next up I will be participating in a still life show in June at Cincinnati Art Galleries and they have requested 8-10 new still lifes for that.  I also will be included in The Miller Museum's exhibition in Door County, WI later this year, as well as a handful of portrait commissions that are waiting to get started and completed. And there's always DPW!

Please visit Brian's website or his wonderful blog Art 4 Diapers to view more of his wonderful paintings.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Your work is really fantastic and playful! Awesome.
    Happy Painting.