'The great privilege of being an artist is that you are allowed to stare at people," said Taos artist Fred Burns, who has spent the better part of his lifetime doing just that. "The …
'The great privilege of being an artist is that you are allowed to stare at people," said Taos artist Fred Burns, who has spent the better part of his lifetime doing just that. "The longer you look, the more you feel the exquisiteness of the moment."
The artist premiered his first solo show, "Big Nudes and More," Friday (Oct. 5) at the Stables Gallery of the Taos Center for the Arts, 133 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. The exhibition features over 40 works, each an arresting study of those moments when authentic humanness peeks through a curtain of ethereal beauty.
Admission to the exhibition is free.
"I have been drawing for as long as I can remember … As an undergraduate art major, I carried a notebook with me everywhere I went and drew whatever I saw." Today, his work with models is a culmination of his fascination with the human body as a medium of motion.
His figures, even in repose, are never static; instead, they appear to hover on the verge of graceful movement. Other works are large scale portraits which, to him, are akin to personal landscapes.
"When a head fills the entire picture plane, it's a whole world and you are taken into a new interpretation. Your eyes move over it as if looking at a map, studying the valleys and planes," Burns said.
"Whenever you raise the scale, it changes the viewer's perspective and takes them away from the ordinary," he continued. Large formats also impact his energy and artistic approach. "Working 'big' engages me physically from my center."
Even his selection of media -- charcoal, graphite, and pastels -- provide an immediate connection to his canvas, engaging him in the physicality of painting itself. "I like the way these media allow me to express emotion directly. When drawing with charcoal, I use my entire hand -- the side of my hand and my palm along with my fingers. My hands become instruments. All textures are available to me -- from wisps to blasts of the darkest black. Pastels add color, allowing me to actually paint with my hands."
The artist's study of movement and motion took root in his years at the University of Southern California's department of film graphics, where he studied under many of the Disney master animators. "It was a revelation to me. I was fascinated that I could make drawings move."
His senior year project was a short animated feature called "Roll 'em Lola," which he created with 2,000 inked, painted, and photographed images. Burns, who worked on this project in his dormitory room, couldn't imagine the reception it would receive.
"Roll 'em Lola" was featured in some of the most prestigious film festivals across North America and was also considered for an Academy Award nomination in 1975. It was selected by the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to represent the United States at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival, where it won bronze.
The Jan. 26, 1977 issue of The Harvard Crimson said, "Roll 'em Lola," a product of Southern California's Department of Film Graphics, is a fast-paced car chase through a liquified Peter Max landscape that keeps changing into the sinuous humps and valleys of an Ingres odalisque," a prescient critique of his work beyond animation.
After graduation, Burns' animation career took him from California, where he worked in the old Hollywood style, to New York, which, he said "is a completely different perspective."
Regardless of approach, Burns continued to accumulate professional acclaim for his work. "A Doonesbury Special" was nominated for an Academy Award in 1978 and was the "Best Animated Short" at that year's Cannes Film Festival. In 1984, "The Soldier's Tale" was a Primetime Emmy winner in the "Outstanding Animated Programming" category.
The second half of his career was spent teaching animation production, animation history and live-action production at Duke University until his move to Taos "where I draw and paint all day."
When he left the field of animation to devote himself to canvas, Burns returned to the early impact of a classical art book given to him at the age of 10 by his grandmother. "It was my way of traveling back in time to revisit all the paintings I came to love in my childhood," mentioning Raphael, Botticelli, Titian, and particularly Tintoretto, who "painted the most influential right hand in Western civilization."
"Manet's 'Olympia' is another painting that has stayed with me," he said. Beyond the body language of repose, Burns senses the energy of potential movement: a gaze that shifts, a hand that gestures.
Burns wished to note that "Big Nudes and More" is dedicated to his models, several of whom will be attending the reception. "I'm so grateful they will be a part of this."
The exhibit is on view through Oct. 14, daily from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Burns will also be hosting gallery talks on the weekends, discussing his time as an animator and the art of painting and drawing nudes. Each weekday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., Burns will be at his easel, drawing live models in an array of costumes.
For more information and to view a schedule of Burns' presentations, call the Taos Center for the Arts at (575) 758-2052, or visit tcataos.org.
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