Burnside's 'writings on the wall'


Tribune Features Editor


NOT many people have a recollection of their birth. Conceivably, those memories are imprinted in our psyches, but most minds seem incapable of retrieving details of the experience. Bahamian artist Stan Burnside remembers.

“No one believes me, but I can remember when I was born. It was all white: nurses in white, walls painted white. The sound was hollow, a rumble you could feel and instinctively know. The feeling of that experience was white light. You couldn’t see clearly, things came in and out of perception. That is my first memory of life,” said Mr Burnside, a veteran painter, Junkanoo designer and cartoonist.

The absence of colour is as significant as the presence of white light in the latest work by Mr Burnside. He mounted the “Peace and Love – Writings on the Wall” exhibit last week at the Stan Burnside Gallery with 23 works of art, the first since the passing of his brother, best friend and fellow artist Jackson Burnside III, who died in May 2011.

Unlike much of his previous work that combines complex layers, shapes and colour combinations which engender complex feelings, the paintings in his latest exhibit have a joyful stillness; their ephemeral quality calls you to be still in order to perceive their quiet expression.

“There’s this expression, ‘if you get quiet enough, you can hear the whispers of god’ – that’s what I was going for. These paintings came out of a silence. It’s like the image is not tangible – you can experience it and feel it, but only if you get quiet,” said Mr Burnside, in his writings on the wall.

There is a connection between the first light experienced by the newborn Mr Burnside and the white light that characterizes his latest collection.

While he was working on the collection, Jackson weighed heavily on Mr Burnside’s mind. It would seem obvious, considering apparitions of Jackson’s face are painted all over the wall.

“The Love you take is equal to the love you make” is a portrait of Jackson that immortalizes the Burnside smile. “Wisdom of the Ages” is a heritage painting of Dr Jackson Burnside and Jackson Burnside III, father and brother to Mr Burnside. In “Let there be Peace”, a lion clad Jackson cradles a lamb in his hands.

“I surrendered to the fact that when you lose a sibling after 62 years, you will have to live with that feeling for the rest of your life. You can embrace it or fight it. My work as an artist allowed me to embrace that. I was able to grieve and come to accept the loss and learn that I can communicate with him on another level, through the mind, heart, imagination and spirit, in love,” said Mr Burnside.

Through this exploration, surrender and release, Mr Burnside said “the colour went out”. A peaceful feeling emerged like a garden after rain.

Mr Burnside chose a technique to honour his primordial feelings. He created a surface going back to cave-painting, a symbolic medium used to record, remember and communicate. He plastered a wood surface to create a wall-like textured canvas. Then, using a fresco process, he created images that aged beyond their actual years.

As if born again from white light, Mr Burnside’s new collection truly speaks to the ancient verse: “As it was in the beginning, so shall it be in the end.” The new collection seems unfamiliar as a body of Stan Burnside work and yet very familiar. It seems to reflect not only Mr Burnside’s state of surrender but also his new playful relationship with his ancestral brother. The peace and the love are ever present in his writings on the wall.


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