Peter Burns’ paintings address the lost soul, the lone wayfarer, and the anti-hero. The solitary struggle to comprehend the world that looms over us, overpowers us and seals our fate to be ever a stranger in a stranger land. He combines classical, biblical and 20th century sci-fi to present storylines that are at once familiar and unsettling. His protagonists eschew the bodily ideals of much of art history’s statuesque depiction and owe more to Robert Crumb and the spirit of Charlie Chaplin – they are anti-heroes caught up in the epic and awesome myths and legends of Western tradition.
Peter’s use of paint, whether on board or canvas, or on his small sculptural objects, always has a third dimension. He builds up his surfaces in peaks and valleys to create a robust physicality on his surfaces. His colors are drawn across the spectrum - he insists that these instances are as vivid as they are relevant. Scale for the most part is intimate, small panels asking us to carefully examine their detail. Nature, whether firmament or forest, looms larger than the figure. We search through the image to find Man, usually alone, sometimes in conflict with another, diminutive amid the teaming richness of his world. I am reminded again of Brueghel, this time in Brussels, his Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, 1560s, the subject is incidental to the scene that depicts the industry of man in agriculture, commerce, architecture and there in the left-hand corner only a tiny pair of legs, a few feathers, records the hubris of the title. Similarly in Burns’ own mythic painting Sisyphus, 2016, the majesty of trees, the witnessing moon dominate the vision, Sisyphus must be sought out, his unyielding curse, a minor note in the symphony of Nature. In his ‘The Killing”, 2016, perpetrator and victim, are tiny flicks of the brush, the artist’s main labour deployed to the vibrant rendering of the trees, mountain, a the great one-eyed all seeing bloom. The moral suggested in these allegories is that the behavior of man is secondary to the rule of Nature and our hubris and violence may condemn us to the extinction of the species. A more hopeful note is struck, literally, in works such as Moonlit Arboretum, Meet me on the Avenue, both 2016, where a silhouetted figure with a double bass, seems to offer a more harmonious prediction of how we may abide within Nature.
Peter Burns’ approach to art has a solid context in current practice, artists such as Marcel Dzama, Neil Farber and to some extent Karen Kilimnik, are also employing the strategies of allegory and symbolism within the genres of folklore and fairytale. But it is Burns’ talent with paint, the vibrancy of his palette, the intensity of his vision, combined with his moral passion that sets him distinctly apart from his contemporaries.
From 'A Moral Vision" by Patrick T. Murphy, Director of the Royal Hibernian Academy