Notes from an Artist Talk with Brendan Stuart Burns

Rosenberg & Co.
Oct 30, 2019 9:57PM

Rosenberg & Co. recently had the honor of hosting Brendan Stuart Burns for an artist talk to celebrate his current exhibition Recent Paintings: Brendan Stuart Burns. In these works, abstraction is the result of heightened attention—an assiduous devotion to form, color, and changing ecologies. After intensive observation of coastal environments in Wales, Iceland, and California, Burns uses oil paint built up with wax and treated linen canvas to create delicate topographies of visual perception.

“It’s almost like the tides going out,” Brendan said when asked to describe his process.

Brendan Stuart Burns at Rosenberg & Co.

“Tides create and destroy, and a kind of destruction-production process is alive in the work. The wax I work with dries quickly—within two or three days—so decisions have to be made . . . whether you wipe it off, or whether you leave it. A lot of mark-making is about taking away, so there is what’s wiped back: there is the silver and the gold in the background, and there is turpentine spray over the top of silver and gold solvents, which then drag into the oil paint. So it’s like creating a painting, but then destroying it by spraying it with solvents and turpentine. Before my eyes, it begins running and changing—as if it’s just rained on the painting—so there is this fight, this tussle to hold it back, to wipe back into it, to save it. It is a marriage of discourse that relates to the balance of construction and destruction.”

Photograph courtesy of Brendan Stuart Burns.

When Marianne Rosenberg asked about his use of wax as a medium, Burns said, “Wax is malleable, but solid: it’s a medium that was used by Ancient Egyptians, so is here to stay. It won’t fall off, for instance—you won’t come down in the morning and find it on your carpet. I add it to the oil paint to both bulk it out and to give it a buttery consistency when I spread it out with a knife. It’s a bit like sculpting, and I do feel I’ve always been a sculptor: I don’t differentiate between sculpting and the fact that I have to work on a flat surface. I feel like I’m making something almost geological.”

Photograph courtesy of Brendan Stuart Burns

“You have been painting in Iceland,” Marianne said, “one of the world’s most geologically beautiful places. And you have also traveled to California for your work. How has that changed, if at all, what you had been doing on your coast in Wales?”

“I suppose that color was the first magical change,” Burns responded. “I was used to seeing my coast for twenty, twenty-five years. It was comfortable: I went to the same beach, the same stone. And it was the same, but always different. The experience of going to a different west coast, a different country—well, the processes of looking are the same, but what you see is different. So yes, you’re there—you’re the same, you’re the same artist, you’re the same person—but the colors change, colors I would never ever think of using: colors that would have never entered my palette. So color is the foremost thing.

“But also what started to creep in was a greater balance between figurative and abstract work. Suggestions, playing games with the viewer—‘oh, is it abstract,’ or, ‘can I see that in it? ’ But things have recently become more figurative. Like in this painting, that is a cherry blossom tree. And I feel comfortable being able to make a painting that simply is now.”

Photograph courtesy of Brendan Stuart Burns.

Rosenberg & Co.