Edward Burra: The Revelation

Edward Burra, The Taverna, 1924

An excerpt from a letter to Conrad Aiken from Edward Burra:

I hate houses & don’t care about them at all or furniture of dinky all atomic kitchens or anything like that at all, nor do I care for this horrid little Beautee spot now becoming a kind of overblown gift shoppe with pottery plaques with the name of the house on every sweet little place all the old inhabitants have moved or moved themselves to council estates on the outskirts so the enter is completely given over to gyfterie and other forms of perversion.

Here’s a treat:


Burra’s the artist, of all artists of the 20th Century, I feel closest to.

My favorite quote from the video is when Burra says that he doesn’t know any other artists: “They may have started out as artists, but they ended up as something else, strange as it may seem.”

About trueoutsider

I'm an artist.
This entry was posted in 20th century British painters and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Edward Burra: The Revelation

  1. Did Edward Burra write this? I just took down a bunch of his paintings at PAD Fair in NY, in November…huge watercolors.

  2. trueoutsider says:

    Hi Russell. Yep. That’s Burra’s writing. I hadn’t even realized I’d posted it. It was the beginning of a meditation on the plastic quality of the Southwest in particular and the plastic quality of the great American Theme Park in general. The Culture of Narcissism. The spiral into the Death Void nothingness of the Corporate Art World. Cheery stuff like that. On the other hand, my next post might be on Pierre Bonnard.

  3. liz says:

    I don’t think Burra is talking about the American Southwest. He is talking about Rye–the town where he lived all his life. He always made fun of the fact that it was so precious and so “twee”.

  4. trueoutsider says:

    Thanks, Liz. I’m aware of that. What I wrote was stated awkwardly. When I wrote… “It was the beginning of a meditation…” I meant I was that I was intending to use his remarks on Rye to launch my own thoughts about the simulation of culture here in the Southwest. Not that it was the beginning of Burra’s meditations on the Southwest! I’m not sure if Burra even visited here. I’ll try to look into that. Sorry for the confusion.

    I just haven’t found the time to do much writing for the past month, but hopefully I can get back to continuing along these lines. What Burra was noting as the evolving “horrid little Beautee spot” of Rye is now ubiquitous in the US… There simply are very few towns I’m aware of that have authentic character not being packaged and exploited by commercialized misrepresentations. Towns and cities as “overblown gift shoppes.” The indigenous or natural organic character of places has evaporated. You can read writers like Kerouac to get a sense of what existed prior to the tidal wave of kitsch… the “beat” qualities. Kerouac meant beat in the sense of beatific. He was exquisitely attuned, although there was obvious romanticization of it, to the pre-commercial qualities still inherent in the less exploited areas of America. Also writers like Faulkner, Henry Miller’s Air Conditioned Nightmare, Peter Matthiessen’s Shadow Country trilogy, Cormac McArthy give glimpses into old, weird, America…. largely vanished now because of commercial exploitation Burra was nauseated by.

    This kind of commercialization of the American west goes back to Buffalo and the Wild West show (Robert Altman made a good film examining this, with Paul Newman as Buffalo Bill). Even Edward Curtis’s photographs, which many people think are chronicling the vanishing culture of the plains Indians, were nothing of the sort. He made them with studio set ups. They were made in the 20th century, when the tribes whose way of life he was supposedly documenting had been all but destroyed. In one photograph of two native Americans he removed a clock that was sitting between them in the darkroom process. The same charade still goes on. What is never documented in art here is what the West really was nor what it really is at present. What is scrupulously avoided is reality..

    What is presented is an artificial paradise now stretched exceedingly thin to the breaking point as the economy has collapsed. The money propping up this artificial paradise is no longer available…. It’s over…. something nobody wants to recognize, fearing that life doesn’t exist at all outside of the fantasy gardens provided them by the “artist” class, be they TV productions, Hollywood movies, or kitsch items up and down Canyon Road in Santa Fe.

    Burra’s is simply an iteration of what cultural critics like Baudrillard among others were getting at in his writings on simulacra.

  5. wewordsmiths says:

    Re: Edward Curtis & photography. Although the darkroom technique of burning & dodging is (was) a common and accepted skill for enhancing light effects in the photo; I can’t help but think these terms can best be applied to the culture at large. As Gore Vidal said preciently, the media we have now is one giant eraser, rubbing out any vestige of fact that has any gravity to indicate the more essential truth of cultural bankruptcy. As well, his quote – “The United States of Amnesia”.

    Much like, as you highlight, the bankrupt, facile, flip-nihilist “conceptualism” gifted us by Duchamp, Greenberg & friends.

    For contrast, here is a famous and good example of the technique, and also photojournalism practiced at its best:


    (What I, and others, instantly recognize as “The Minimata Pieta”. As herself, but also as “the least of us”, where is also You-Know-Who.)

    It interests me that the Plutocracy which engulfs us is named, actually, after our most distant & cold planet; and figuratively, after the Realm of The Dead.

    The most “wealthy” lead us to cultural and moral bankruptcy.

    I suppose I should be “Shocked, shocked! ”


    – William

  6. trueoutsider says:

    My favorite quote of Vidal’s among a large host of them: “Andy Warhol is the only genius I’ve ever known with an IQ of 60.” He’s really addressing the entire art world, of course, as Andy was their collective choice for the pinnacle of collective artistic achievement when he made it.

    If anything, the collective IQ has only gotten lower… As Koons is a pathetic re-enactment of Warhol. A cleaned up schoolboy Warhol… No blowjobs. No transvestites. No drag queens. No seedy Factory drug scene. Total boredom. Warhol’s boredom is the height of excitement compared to Koons TV adman boredom. Koons should really be hawking shit on the Shopping Channel. But of course that’s his entire schtick. Hawking a bunch of kitsch to a world of tasteless television viewers.

    The only question I’ve had for a long time is if the collective taste can get any lower. It might be the only interesting question that one can ask of today’s art world. Just what can they pull off next to sink even further into their self-created muck?

    The the Mencken adage in practice: “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public”. Of course, this isn’t just the American public we’re talking about. We’re talking about the brilliant intellectuals of the Liberal Class here. These are the people responsible for feeding it to the American public. A lot of them are trying to wash their hands of it, from the little bit of reading of critics I can tolerate it’s pretty clear. The Jed Perls, Kuspits, John Yaus and so on, .. The pillars of the old regime critics after advocating all kinds of crap for decades within the last few years have been peeling away from the “current decadence.” They’re too pure for it! Imagine.

    Yes,… Helen Frankenthaler’s ridiculous pour paintings are works of immortal genius. Jules Olitski and his spray paint extravaganzas are complete marvels. Louis and his pours. Kenneth Noland and his targets. Johns and his targets. These are genius painters. As compared to Damien Hirst and his spin art paintings? Hirst is parodying all of it, yes. But the parody is particularly effective as what results from his spin art process is just as eye-catching and “aesthetic” as what he’s parodying. I don’t think he’s even aware of that, of course. Or is he? Who the fuck knows anymore as it’s just a vast capitalist casino whose sole content is dollar signs. Thanks for that, art writers and dealers. Bang up job promoting spiritually dead art. Art that says nothing. Art that means nothing. Also thanks to the artists for going along with it all without a peep escaping their lips. I particularly am impressed by the painters who are gaga about Duchamp, who throughout his life referred to painters as morons.. It takes real discipline to worship a guy who calls you a moron… Something on the order of progressives wanting real health care reform who were called “fucking retards” by Rahm Emmanuel and go on supporting the Democratic Party.

    And please note that all these Frankenthalers, and Olitskis and Nolands and Poons and Kellys are all flawlessly brilliant! Not a bad painting in the bunch. Sure fire formulas for cool art masterpieces… one example for every single museum in the entire world. Plenty to go around… Just roll em off the assembly line. The colors are always just so marvelous and clean and pure! Pretty too… Helen loaned one of her great works to the Cheneys so they could have it at the White House… no doubt to keep him cheery as he was orchestrating the torture program and planning our conquest of the Mideast. All pure color and deeply spiritual paintings for all of the Greenberg brigades (Greenberg himself a big Vietnam War hawk, mind you.) No darkness whatsoever in the American soul. No dark side whatsoever in the art world.

    Andy Warhol’s Art World… brought to you by the collective American Art Critic class and currently subsidized by the global financial elite. Not to mention the invariably accurate taste of the American public.

  7. wewordsmiths says:

    In a form so weak as to be a whisper of an itch, a nagging itch, not a tickle, nothing funny or anything that draws out the faintest smile*; I suspect it has only been the faint patina of glib irony that has sustained the vaporous substance of these hacks. And the feint continues unabated. But.

    Sly vapid is still vapid.

    When one steps back as far as sensibility allows, the view is a chasm, the first step into the abyss. It’s difficult to perceive that now we stand on the rim of a mesa, a wasteland, indicated by one of Vidal’s precursors. It is interesting that a Catholic poet and an atheist novelist could be at such concordance. One would think a strong indication of clean, sane perception. But no. We’ve been here so long due to Vidal’s noted eraser. The media’s tyranny of the new will have it no other way.

    As the weakest of curiosities, I might be interested in *what’s next*, but I know ahead of time that all that will be offered will be drab ego drenched in slightness, anythingism, or itself; pick any two.

    Why not the infantile primary colors of baby’s blocks on crude paintings of the same? I suppose its been done already. That’s OK. Just add some brown streaks or little yellow pools on the uni-tone floor and – there you have it! Of course the baby is absent. Even as described, there is too much subject. We only have objects, and we wish we didn’t have those.

    I suppose their obvious, greatest ^work^ of ^genius^ were the empty canvas, painted either entirely titanium white or jet black. Here, like everywhere, they strove for ever clever minimalism. I wonder if they were conscious of their cover of the entire history of actual painting. And they missed. The same gesture would have been achieved with even less talent & action as desired. The ^artist^ stands facing a crowd, in front of his ^work^, a large unpainted canvas. He abruptly turns around, grasps the canvas, and does nothing except turn IT around to its backside. Performance Art and a declared ^work^ all at once! Maybe she herself also moons the audience. Maybe not.

    But wait! This is still too much subject. Even the object is not pure; the heresy of too much observation renders it also a subject. As conceptualists, what to do?

    A room empty of anything, except two ^artists^ at either end. Thinking at each other.

    I can’t wait.

    * An obvious irony they would yet miss.

    ^Irony quotes.^ I’m trying to start something. Very, very small. If caught on, fools will call it big. As in #hashtag or *swipe*. Ugh.

  8. wewordsmiths says:

    The ^irony^ quotes, while grammatical aids, I also intend as humorous glyph, raised eyebrows.

    Haha! Just noticed I gave my artist a sex change. From interruption & distraction. Complicates what should be a simpleton image. Oh well.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s