Chris Burns British, b. 1968

Contemporary artist Chris Burns’s work exists somewhere between painting, drawing, and printmaking embodied in a poetic expression of the life of the artist who exists “outside of everything.” In some instances, Burns’ work reminds one of the figural imagery of Francis Bacon, particularly in the areas of abstract swathes of paint that evoke a sense of ghostly erasure. And yet, much of Burns’ work has a spareness and minimalist approach to colour. This style is unexpectedly juxtaposed with a painterly attention to impasto surface and a calligraphic inscription of space.


Burns’s practice includes etchings and he often works in oil, ink, charcoal chalk and graphite, as well. His mixed media paintings are a network of texture, impasto and painterly inscription. Of this formal style one is reminded of the work of Jean Dubuffet and Chaim Soutine particularly in the haptic treatment of surface. However, Burns notes that his relationship to these modernist canons and or traditions is symbiotic. As the artist explains, such art historic legacies and histories are “not obsolete” within contemporary practice, but rather transformed through new interpretations and experiments. In this way, Burns’s work is connected to the practice of Dubuffet most closely in the sense that he shares with the modern master a commitment to innovation realised through unconventional or experimental studio practice. One such example is Burns’s ‘A Rakes Progress’: a series of paintings and etchings that serve as “a deconstruction of William Hogarth’s.  To create these images the artist began with Hogarth engravings and “took them through them through a process of editing and reconstruction and the re-etching of over seventy copper plates.” 


If Burns’s work is in part autobiographic, it is this story of making art that it is at the centre of the artistic narrative. Within this visual world, we see traces of the beginnings of ideas, the moment of painting in the artist’s brushstroke or the unveiling of surface through reduction, resulting in a tactile surface that has, at the same time, a powerful graphic sensibility. 

Burns emphasizes the importance of artistic exploration “It is the process of painting which draws out something far more ambiguous and complex…“I think of my work as deeply autobiographical, yet I never start with myself or autobiography, it’s only sometime later I recognise this.”


Through these experimental approaches, and an enduring commitment to the process of creating, Burns has constructed his own genre of picture making. In pictures of obscured and reworked scenes and portraits, an unsettling beauty permeates an impressive oeuvre of both graphic and painterly imagery. This new tableau of portraits possesses a quality of spectral memory, paired with a voluptuous handling of paint and colour, and inscribed moments of art history. 


Rosa JH Berland


The original drawings for these etchings were made with a need to simplify my practice and I reduced it down to ink on paper hoping to develop a style and different approach to my subject matter. The animals  felt like a natural channel for self expression, though I didn't think of them as anthropomorphic, they were more about just being alive. An incredible influence in the early stages of these studies were the drawings of Nadia Chomyns; though the study of her work has largely focused on the developmental psychology aspect of her autism; for me as an artist her work liberated the process of drawing, they made me want to draw. Not only was her line work and form incredibly inventive it also managed to capture something else: her cockerels, dogs and horses had a strong sense of personality, but not human, just living, those bold eyes staring out at you were hypnotic to me.
Later beyond reacting directly to Chomyns's work I could see that her development posed an interesting question about creativity;  her highly developed work was made deep in the isolation of her autism and as therapy helped her adjust outside of this and live a more balanced life, her incredible drawing ability became like any other child's work of her age, till eventually she actually stopped drawing.
 I made art because I found basic every day life unbearable, I sought isolation, I had no desire for a career or to even be an artist, I wanted liberty from expectation. The struggle was just being alive not art. Being on your own allowed streams of thought to follow their own paths; painting and drawing gives you something to do on your own and it became a way to communicate something to myself about being alive and I think these drawings of animals contain the spirit of this struggle.
 ~ Chris Burns 2021