Artist Perry BurnsPerry Burns Makes Art That Would Resonate in the Middle East
Artist Perry Burns and his wife Jolie Parcher, the force behind Mandala Yoga in Amagansett, recently bought a circa 1800-built house from a member of East Hampton’s iconic Lester family. When they moved in last summer, in a flight of fancy, Burns set to planting a wildflower garden so that he could overlook it and the property’s fruit orchard while painting. Little did he suspect that his garden would prove so “stunningly beautiful” that flowers would show up on his canvasses.
Not representational flowers for this abstract painter, but pretty, stylized versions that cover the entire surface – like you might see on a tapestry. In fact, the artist calls these flower strewn canvases “flower tapestries.”
That is not to say that the artist is only producing flowers these days. His subjects “come in waves,” he says. And this is the latest wave. But a peek in his studio reveals that he is still producing the geometric patterns for which he is known.
Burns remembers making his first painting. He was five years old and in art class painting trees. “I was so consumed with painting the branches that all the kids had cleaned up and left before I realized it.” At home, he drew or painted on every surface till his mother assigned him his own wall in the pantry where he was allowed to create at will.
He grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut where his father was a stock broker. “I was destined to become a stock broker or a stock broker,” he laughs. His mother worked at Sotheby’s auction house and would “sneak me behind the scenes” where he ogled his fair share of Rembrandts and Picassos. Growing up in such a privileged WASPy enclave did not prepare him for what came next.
At age 12 he visited his uncle, a naval attaché, in Beirut where his world view took a dramatic turn. His uncle was a sophisticated fellow who spoke seven languages including Arabic and Farsi, and who befriended people in all classes “from shopkeepers to heads of state.” Strangely, young Burns identified intensely with the Islamic culture and its people. So much so that the artist has made many trips back to the Middle East and incorporated Islamic design into his work.
“I don’t tell people this, but I do feel like I was a Muslim in a past life,” he says. “It seems too kooky. But the culture is so satisfying to my soul.”
It was while studying at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) that he first noticed “an
Islamic sense of pattern” creeping into his pieces. “These patterns kept coming through till I fully embraced them,” he says. “At mosques you see patterns everywhere, flowers and geometrics.
Another characteristic of Burns’ paintings are the many layers he lays on and then breaks down by either sanding or chemically stripping. “It develops a sort of history like you might see on an old wall with lots of layers of paint.”
His paintings come in a variety of jewel-like colors. “I think of myself as a color master,” he says. “I can duplicate any color there is.” The artist loves color so much that when he brings his palette out, “I start laughing. The play of color touches me deeply, it’s so exhilarating.”