Back in high school, Angela Burson took an art class and didn’t think art was her thing.
“I was terrible!” she laughs. “My sister was awesome—she still is—and I sucked.”
Burson’s harsh self-assessment came partly from the fact that she sees things backwards, though she’s not sure she’s technically dyslexic.
“If I’m looking at an angle and trying to draw it, I’ll do the opposite,” she explains. “It’s just the way my brain works, I guess. We’d have a still life and I’d draw it, and it’d be all wrong.”
Growing up in Liberty, Missouri, just outside Kansas City, Burson grew up with access to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. The museum helped her explore modern art, but it also narrowed her idea of what art could be.
“I grew up seeing really good modern art, so I thought it always had to be photorealistic,” says Burson. “Or if it was a squirrel, it had to look like a squirrel.”
While Burson was frustrated with her work, her art teacher saw something special in what she was producing.
“He’d be like, ‘This is all wrong, but it’s great! You’ve got something; there’s energy,’” she remembers. “We were at a farm and I had to draw, and my barn was red and my tree was brown. He was like, ‘Do you see that brown in the tree? Do you see any other colors in there; do you maybe see a purple?’”
Her teacher’s patience and willingness to work with her opened Burson’s eyes to what she could do with art, and she decided to come to SCAD for college.
Today, Burson draws, perhaps subconsciously, on her high school experience to create still life paintings with strong colors.
“I am sort of putting together a still life that’s not in reality,” she muses.
Burson builds a fantasy still life around real-life objects. She’s inspired by a variety of things—a vintage Louis Vuitton suitcase here, a book of menswear there—and keeps a file in her computer of reference images.
Her creative process is very spur of the moment; she allows herself to figure out what’s going on with the painting along the way.
“A lot of times, I just don’t know,” she shrugs. “I sit down and have this blank thing, and I draw a horizon line, and then I’ll think, ‘I want to do a person standing next to another person.’ All of a sudden, one person doesn’t have clothes on and the other person does! I have an idea and I’ll draw it, and I’ll take all this time to commit to this really fast idea I had.”
Burson is inspired by artists like David Hockney, Frida Kahlo and Gertrude Abercrombie, who she describes as “surrealist Midwestern.” It’s clear, seeing the work of these artists, that Burson shares their eclectic sensibility. Her still lifes aren’t afraid to get a little weird and surreal.
“I’m trying to make this sort of interior space,” she reflects. “I’m making the walls, I’m furnishing it. They don’t necessarily have to have people, but it’s a place that a person has been or just been, or coming into or leaving. The space feels inhabited, but it’s kind of empty.”
When creating the imaginary space, Burson lets the room fill up until it’s done.
“That’s how I work. It’s very intuitive,” she says. “I’m just figuring it out. Often, it’s not right, but there’ll be a time it settles down and it feels done.”
“Peep Show,” which is on display through Nov. 8, is Burson’s first solo show in a while. She was first approached to do a solo show, but out of state.
“I thought, ‘I’d love to do a solo show, but I want to do it in Savannah,’ not away,” she remembers.
After talking it out with Location Gallery’s director Peter Roberts, Burson was originally set to feature her paintings with Roberts’ papercuts, but the idea morphed into just Burson’s work on display.
It’s also worth noting that Burson finished up the work for the show after a particularly nasty car crash in June.
She suffered a broken sternum and shoulder blade and still is unable to return to work at Atwell’s Frame Shop, but she pushed through and completed the paintings for “Peep Show.” That’s dedication.