18 March to 2 April
Artist’s talk 25 March 2pm
Anna Lovely Gallery has invited Trevor Burgess to hold a solo exhibition to mark his 60th birthday. “Back Stories” takes a reflective look back at his journey as an artist.
Trevor Burgess has a long association with the Anna Lovely Gallery and was one of the artists in the very first show when the gallery opened in 2014. He is known for his paintings of everyday urban life and markets around the world, usually using his own snapshot photographs as a source material.
+ Ambreen Hameed speaks about Trevor Burgess’s paintings (see below)
This exhibition will comprise a personal selection by the artist of works from his back catalogue, going right back to when he was at school. Each painting in the exhibition tells a story of the stages on that journey. It’s a very personal exhibition, and for those who know the artist’s current paintings, it may contain some surprises.
“I was not happy at school, but I was lucky”, he says, “to have had a sympathetic art teacher who was a landscape painter. He set me off going out to paint the landscape from observation. I loved the drama and shifting light of the Northern hills. The school offered a travel award. At the age of 17, with my art teacher’s encouragement, I got enthusiastic and one night wrote 5 pages proposing to go for a month and paint in the South of France where Cezanne and Van Gogh had painted and put on an exhibition at school when I returned. I won the award, went to France, experienced independence, doing what I wanted, discovering the joys of vivid Mediterranean sunlight. I caught the painting bug. It has never left me.”
The exhibition will show landscapes from this early period, including a painting he made at school. After more than ten years painting landscapes, and also attending regular life drawing, Burgess felt the need to get to grips with the figure in painting. “I went about it in a stubborn and extreme way, abandoning observational painting to delve into my imagination.”
The figure paintings that emerged explored archetypes and internal psychodrama. Most of these paintings he didn’t consider successful and has subsequently destroyed. The exhibition brings to light some works he has kept – dark and thickly painted, with a pervasive brooding anxiety.
A breakthrough occurred in 1996 when the artist John Kiki brought him a liquid medium for the oil paint, and suggested he mix up colours in bowls and paint horizontally on the floor, instead of at an easel – a method he continues to use to this day. This freed him up, and a series of large, improvised paintings around the theme of families began to emerge. Slowly, the figures were finding themselves in a contemporary urban environment, and the spirit of the paintings was getting lighter.
In 1997 Burgess went to study MA European Fine Art in Barcelona. He continued on the line of freely improvised figure paintings culminating in some very large canvases. At the same time he got fascinated with the Catalan custom of “Castells” or human towers. Working from drawings and, for the first time, allowing himself to work from photographs, he produced a whole series of works on the theme of the Castellers, which were exhibited in a touring exhibition in Catalunya in 2001. Another first, he says, “I was making work about a social activity”. Again, many of these paintings were.
Looking back over this formative period, the exhibition gives an opportunity to assess the development of his mature painting style and how these strands came together in the urban paintings that Trevor Burgess started to make when he returned to live in London at the beginning of the new millennium.
“Early on, at school,” he writes, “I realised that there is this gap between something looking real and the painting looking ‘right’. They are not the same thing. I knew from the start that painting is not copying. And I was always sure that there’s an imaginative, even visionary, impulse behind making a painting. Something I had to express.
A lot of my work has been lost, sold or destroyed. This exhibition has given me the opportunity to go back through my archives and dig out paintings that I have retained, which I haven’t looked at for years, re-assess them, reflecting on the curious paths down which my passion for painting has led me”.