Fred Burton is extremely influential on my development as an artist. He is the first person I ever met who lived his life as an artist and, in doing so, inspired me to do the same. This aspect of his teaching is just as valuable as anything he imparts about artistic process or technique.
Painter juggles dual role as professor
By By Morgan Bernal Special to The Commercial Appeal
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Fred Burton steps up to a student's drawing pad, nimbly handling the charcoal.
"Let me show you something," he says, proceeding with long, brisk strokes. "You have to whip it."
As a look of recognition slowly spreads over the student's face, several others standing close by attempt similar strokes. Burton jokes, "That's why they pay me 19 cents an hour," and continues walking the studio.
After 20 years at Memphis College of Art, and nearly 30 years of teaching, Burton is a pillar of the MCA community. Teaching a range of classes from landscape drawing to beginning life drawing, Burton uses slides, articles, sketchbooks and decades of knowledge to teach aspiring art students.
"Teaching to me is like theater," he says. "I had three really good teachers in nine years. I tell my students they have to find people that excite them.
"It will help you to do something in your life. But life experience is another thing -- (the art) is dead if you don't have anything to say."
The windowless studio comes alive as students focus on a live model. The scratching sounds of charcoal and conte sticks are drowned by jazz crooning from a small boom box. Flipping through a 2-foot-high pile of sketchbooks, Burton pauses to survey the room. "Four more minutes on this pose," he says as students scrunch their brows in concentration and quicken their movements.
As a painter and a full-time professor, Burton divides his time between two passions.
"I have two different lives," he says. "Sometimes I bring my work to the studio at night, gouge wood, clean up and drive it back home to my garage. The panels are so big they won't fit into my house."
And teaching? "Teaching reinforces my own work," he says. "Some professors say it interferes, but I have never found that."
Burton has achieved a balance between professor and painter. "Either I found the balance or the balance found me," he says chuckling.
Although Burton has cut back on participating in art shows, he's working on three styles or "directions" that he plans to take outside of Memphis. The newest technique involves polymer and bleach on photographs that he'll use in colleges and larger paintings. He will experiment placing Plexiglass over the prints to echo the colors and patterns created by the dripped polymer and bleach.
"It could be good," he says, shrugging his shoulders. "Or not."
Position: professor of drawing at Memphis College of Art.
Hometown: Wichita, Kan.
Education: bachelor's of art, Wichita State; master's in painting, Kent State; master's of fine arts, Wichita State.
Community Involvement: donated paintings to Works of Heart Auction and Art to Dine For; designed poster for Arts in the Park.
© 2007 Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers