Artist finds color in community
Four frosting-like globs of brightly colored paint lie on a plastic sheet on the floor in front of artist Brooke Burgee. Theres sunshine yellow, pale purple, midnight blue and a brilliant blue green, but she didnt chose the colors I did. The Stones softly croon about wild horses as Burgee wipes the first thick streak of yellow on the clean, black canvas with a paint-speckled palette knife. The barefoot, blonde-haired Burgee is a painter though the term sculptor might be more accurate. She gently dabs, smears and cuts the acrylic paint with the knife theres not a paintbrush in sight. She hasnt picked up a brush in 14 years, she said. Instead, she uses spatulas and even kitchen utensils to create a markedly three-dimensional look with paint. Striations of color and sharp peaks emerge on the canvas as she works.My philosophy on my art mirrors my own life, Burgee wrote in an e-mail. Im not a realist and I dont let fear of the unknown hold me back. I live in the texture, emotion and color of my work. The paintings partly reflect what I see with my eyes, but are more of a reflection of what I feel with my heart.The reason Burgee asks people to chose their colors is twofold, she said. First, it allows people a chance to be involved on a very personal level with her artwork, often times spurring conversation about color and what it means to them. Second, people chose colors based on their own personal experiences I might never have put those exact colors together on my own, she said. Burgee creates the painting using the chosen colors while listening to whatever artist or album the person requests. When the painting is finished, she gives them first right of refusal before it goes to a gallery or a show, Burgee said.My role as an artist is much greater than the finished works, it is to be a story teller. When people reveal their colors and what moves them, they are telling their story. People have continued to share with me the deeper meanings behind their choices and many have touched me profoundly, Burgee wrote.
Burgee has been asking her friends and family to pick their colors for years, she said, working to engage and involve those closest to her in her craft. Last month, when Burgee was in Vermont (where she lives and works part of the year), kids started stopping by her studio, asking if they could pick out their colors like theyd done the summer before. She agreed and told them to bring their friends, too. The kids got on their bikes and rallied the neighborhood, she said.Next thing I knew, I had 10 to 15 kids in my studio at a time. And they came back day after day, she said.Parents started showing up along with their children, bringing donated paint, brushes and T-shirts along with them so the children could hang out alongside Burgee and paint. In the week before she left for Chicago (Burgee participated in the Chicago Tribune Magnificent Mile Art Festival in July), nearly 100 people tromped through her studio and every one of them chose colors. Three 11-year-old girls were so excited about Burgee and their studio experience, they started a blog about it http://www.iamoz.blogspot.com.I love the experience of watching their faces, the connection they have with being involved, she said. If someone can come into the studio and feel inspired or feel their creativity sparked, if they just leave with a feeling of wonderment, I did my job as an artist.Before Burgee left Vermont, she decided to compile the studio visitors colors into a collection shes calling the Neighborhood Collection. The next week, while she was in Chicago, she continued reaching out to passers-by, inviting them into her creative process. Her booth was packed with people interested in her art, as well as the project, and nearly 60 people wrote down their colors.It became obvious that I was on to something, she said. I took it to Columbia, Missouri and to Denver for the Park Meadows Art Festival. Ive had everyone from 2 years old to 90 years old, from the homeless to the professional, and kids with Down syndrome and adults with cerebral palsy participate. Its allowed me to have a much broader palette.
While in Missouri, a man in a wheelchair rolled up to Burgees booth. As Burgee started talking with him and his girlfriend, they told her they both had cerebral palsy. She asked them to pick out their colors; the man chose just two silver and black.He said he was really proud of them because theyre the same colors as his wheelchair, which is carbon fiber, and that he was proud that the chair doesnt look like a medical wheelchair. When he rolls down the street, people compliment him and say hey, nice chair, and hes proud that it takes the attention off of his disability.Avon resident Amy Phillips and her husband Bill met Burgee three years ago. Bill had admired Burgees work when it was on display at Loaded Joes in Avon and though he fell in love with a series of three, codependent pieces, he didnt have the money to purchase it. A few months later, the couple randomly found themselves at a party at Burgees home, where Bill recognized the art on the walls.He asked her, do you know Oz? and she said, I am Oz, Amy said. The triptych Bill had adored was hanging in her living room. He pulled $500 out of his wallet, handed it to Burgee, took the piece off the wall and drove a few blocks home to hang it, Amy said.He did that all before he had a beer, which, if you know him, its quite shocking, Amy said, chuckling.For us its an ongoing struggle that weve seen art that we didnt buy and then we regret it later. This was another one he had been talking about and the next thing you know its five months later and theres that piece. This time he had to have it.With three pieces of Burgees art now hanging in her home, Amy isnt shy about discussing what attracts her to the paintings.Certainly some people are more attracted to abstract art than others but I really like the colorful nature of it as well as all the textures. Its very interesting to look at, especially like two inches away when you get up close and can see the different swirls (of color). To me its very much sculpture on canvas and a lot of times it reminds me of really interesting cake frosting.Arts & Entertainment editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 748-2984 or firstname.lastname@example.org.