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Continued: Minneapolis artist is painting by (house) numbers

  • Article by: KIM ODE , Star Tribune
  • Last update: September 10, 2013 - 5:08 PM

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


Kim Ode • 612-673-7185


  • related content

  • Photo gallery: Painting by numbers

    Tuesday September 10, 2013

    SW Minneapolis artist paints the faces of his block.

  • Pam Gleason sat for Joe Burns, who is painting almost every person who lives on the 5100 block of Upton Avenue S. in Minneapolis. Below, a few of the finished portraits in his “51st and Upton Portrait Project.” After a public display, the paintings will go to their subjects.

  • “Really, how many of us ever think to get our portraits painted?” asked Pam Gleason as Burns created her likeness.

  • “I try to paint everyone as real as I can,” said Joe Burns — even himself.

  • Joe Burns, who has lived on his block for about 15 years, started the portrait project as an exercise in building community.

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