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A portrait of art
As part of the project, Burns painted his own portrait, which proved revelatory.
“I try to paint everyone as real as I can,” he said. “So I had to tell myself that I have wrinkles and no hair. It’s not exactly a flattering picture of me, but it’s a picture of me.”
The idea of how we preserve our images came up on a recent afternoon as Gleason sat for her portrait. She was getting a little antsy; as a Pilates instructor and dancer, stillness is not her forte.
“But I want to support Joe,” she said. “And really, how many of us ever think to get our portraits painted?”
Then she mentioned how she’d found a bag of disposable cameras that her kids had once used, although who knew when?
“Does anyone even develop film anymore?” she asked, which led to a discussion about the progression from paint to cameras to cellphone “selfies.”
Burns’ portraits, done relatively quickly compared with the 40 to 50 hours he’d spend on a museum-quality painting, are more about planes and shapes of color. Watching him work is sort of like watching a stop-action film. With a small brushstroke, Gleason’s eyes suddenly brightened. Another stroke, and a cheekbone appeared. From paint, there emerged a person.
And more, Burns added, trying to explain how the very act of conversing while painting, much less painting his neighbors, invests each portrait with more than just a simple likeness.
“Hopefully,” he said, “you’re getting some of their emotion into it.”
A public artist’s reception of the “51st and Upton Portrait Project” will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday at Vinaigrette, 5006 Xerxes Av. S., Minneapolis. There will also be a drawing for a free three-hour portrait sitting, to be painted live at Vinaigrette at a later date. For more info, go to www.joetburns.com.
Kim Ode • 612-673-7185