Angela Burson paints in a highly refined style, with clean lines, well-designed patterns, and an impeccable use of color. All of these traits are on display in the works appearing in “Peep Show,” her current exhibition at Location Gallery. But she wasn’t one of those artists who showed much promise as a youth.
“I never really thought I was any good,” she recounted on this week’s episode of Art on the Air, “My sister was the artist in the family. I was terrible but I enjoyed it. I had to take one art class in high school. It was a disaster.”
It wasn’t until she went to a local college, one that her parents convinced her to attend because it was close and free, that she discovered there was an artist within her.
“I took an art class and the professor would set up these still-lifes,” Burson recalled, “I remember there was a filing cabinet [she painted], and the angles were just wrong. And [the teacher] brought it up in class, pinned it up in a critique and he said, ‘This is all wrong. But, there’s something really great about it. There’s an energy. There’s a boldness.’ And that made me really happy, just knowing that it didn’t have to be perfect. It didn’t have to look like what I thought art was supposed to look like, which was photorealistic. And I thought, ‘I love this.’”
She decided to explore this newfound passion further and transferred to the Savannah College of Art and Design, where she received and BA in painting in 1991. It was there that Burson discovered her style.
“I lived in a old house on Jones Street,” she explained, “And the apartment was in this huge mansion and came with it’s own dresser. And it was beautiful. And I remember doing a painting of it. Like it was an object that you’d want to just have a painting of. And when I look at my work now, I do that. I have an object [or] a piece of furniture in a room.” But more than just what she’s painting, it’s the why that distinguishes Burson’s work from her peers.
“I love it when something weird happens,” she told me with a smile, “When I’m just putting my composition down and I have something that’s really off? I use all of those mistakes. Because I think that’s what makes it unique or different. I’m not trying to correct it.”
The paintings in “Peep Show” do, in fact, feature both beautiful objects and an element of weirdness, and also happen to be flush with meaning for the artist.
“Most of the work is autobiographical. The things in them mean something to me. Obviously a viewer isn’t going to know that, what the actual meaning is for me.”
A great example is the piece “Car Wreck,” which depicts a headless woman in a knee-high pink dress with a cast on her left arm, diaphanous flowers in her right hand. Burson broke her arm on June 7th, which, coincidentally, allowed her to complete the work for the exhibition. “I couldn’t work at my job. So I’ve just been painting like crazy because that’s all I could do. It was my left arm, so my right arm was fully functioning.”
The title “Peep Show” also makes a lot of sense for Burson’s work, providing another great example of the synergy between concept and final product that viewers will see throughout the show.
“In a way you’re looking in on a little room, or a little scene.” She’s also included hidden little details, surprises for the viewer to find, but really made for her own amusement. “I think that’s what makes my work fun and interesting for me. To have all of these details and messages and strange little things that happen.”
Want to hear more? Listen to my entire conversation with Angela Burson embedded here:
“Peep Show” is currently on view at Location Gallery at 417 Whitaker Street. The reception, which is free to attend, takes place Friday, October 18th from 5-8pm.
Tune in to “Art on the Air” every Wednesday from 3-4 p.m. on WRUU 107.5 FM in Savannah, and streaming worldwide at www.wruu.org. Next week’s guests on the show will be Jon Jensen and Yves Paquette, two members of the Savannah Clay Community.
Art off the Air is a digital-only column that is posted every week on dosavannah.com as a companion piece to the WRUU 107.5 FM show “Art on the Air.”
Rob Hessler is an artist, host of the radio show Art on the Air on WRUU 107.5 FM Savannah, and Executive Director of Bigger Pie, a Savannah-based arts advocacy organization.