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Worcester Painter Brian Burris Creates Landscapes for the Psyche

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


A Portrait of Brian Burris by Scott Erb. Burris creates intellectually challenging art for the subconscious.

Worcester's Brian Burris uses the world of art to escape a troubled past, to the point where, he admits, it has almost become an obsession, a draining process, mentally and physically. He becomes absorbed in his work, consumed by it.

Specifically, over the years, he's evolved to become a part of the world of acrylics and what he terms "automatic painting."

 "As a kid I could withdraw into myself and draw," remarks the painter. "When I was sixteen a friend handed me his father's box of paints and said do something with these," he continues.

"Apart from a seven year hiatus, I've been painting ever since."

Why? Well it's simple to explain, yet complicated to endure.

"I grew up in a wonderland of mental illness, hoarding and physical abuse," he says.

He moved from Bedford, Massachusetts to the Worcester area at the age of 17. He spent time in basic training for the Army Reserves, but soon moved back.

"I married into Worcester, and here I'll remain until I retire."

Automatic Painting

So what is "automatic painting"? It is "trance-like", Burris describes, but more than that, it is purely mental, yet the process takes no thought. It involves pure inspiration and movement, and nothing in between. It involves chance elements coming together to create something eternal, above and beyond reality.

 "It's an exclusion of the ordinary world and touching the divine," he says.

The Place of Bones by Brian Burris

What's produced from this process is half abstract expressionist and half minimalist. Many of his works can be described as landscapes, but no normal landscapes. Some describe them as purely "psychological" 'scapes, others as abstract panoramas. It depends, mostly, how the specific viewer interprets them. What you see in his work largely depends on subconscious perception. In other words, the viewer can't help but see what he sees, but everyone sees something different.

"The result is Rorschach-like: patterns and tonal variations inviting the unconscious interpretation," says Burris. "...like seeing the face of Jesus on a grilled cheese sandwich or faces in the clouds."

The Power of the Subconscious

He hopes, simply, this elicits an emotional response from the viewer. After all, that's all any artist can ask, but the subconscious reaction to a piece can be far stronger and more emotional than a conscious one, even if the viewer may not notice it in the moment.

In other words, the emotional response is not one that comes as a result of "mere aesthetics."

"They get a communication of deep emotions that is uncommon in our day-to-day existence."

He finds that people who have been exposed to unnamed traumas, like himself, more readily understand his work than others. These are the basic human emotions that come as a result of feelings of "tragedy, ecstasy, doom and so on," or those experiences that get trapped deep in that subconscious.

It is, however, difficult to describe such art, and more importantly such experiences, in words alone. You'll of course have to see it for yourself. One thing is for sure though, he will continue to paint long into the future, for reasons expressed before, because, simply, he has to.

"I'll continue to paint. That's a thing unto itself," he says.

"Showing and sales are nice, but separate, almost an antithesis. Not the religious experience of the act itself."

Burris has been asked to participate in a show at the Sprinkler Factory in September and will be contributing to ArtsWorcester's October fundraising event, "Art on the Line."

For more information on Brian Burris and to view his work please visit his website.


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