Greg Mason Burns

Movement and Period: Modernism

modernism, hans hofmann, painting,  Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

The Gate – Hans Hofmann – 1959-1960 – Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (via wikipedia) is Modernism

What in god’s name is Modernism? It’s a question that I’ve thought about often since a friend of mine figured I fit into the movement. I’m not sure that I fit into any movement, to be honest. I’ve been told I’m an Expressionist, partly because I express myself when painting (which seems a bit foolish) and partly because of the emotional reaction people get from some of my paintings. Another has called me a figurative painter with a flair for the abstract. Apparently I have a bit of Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art in me, though honestly neither of these fit either.

I was looking at Hans Hofmann’s “The Gate” and figured that seemed like me. But then again there’s this idea that I don’t really care about modern urbanism. I’m certainly not a realist, and I don’t want to be one. In fact, despite the fact that I love Edward Hopper, I don’t believe realism has much of a place in today’s world. I’m a big believer in the idea that we don’t know what our options are. The “glass consumer”, as posited by Susanne Lace, essentially strips any chance we have at knowing what options are possible simply because we know so much less about ourselves than corporations do. If that’s the case, what’s the point of reality?

Modernism, Abstract Expressionism, Painting, Art

The BATHE – Greg Mason Burns – 2014

I do believe in pushing forward and finding news ways to progress society. Rules are helpful in everyday life, but they aren’t the drivers of progress. I’m no Picasso (neither in talent nor style) but I do get Dali. I don’t care much about light, but I do care a lot about color and how it contrasts with the other colors on the canvas as well as how it contrasts with my own personal feelings. “The BATHE”, which I finished in 2014, is a direct descendant of a method of psychotherapy used to figure out what is troubling a patient and how he or she feels about it. I painted over another painting because I didn’t like the first one. Then I just worked it until I felt it was right. I didn’t get any answers out of this until I painted “The Response”. It was then that I knew I was doing something right.But this make me a Modernist? I hardly think so. There was nothing about society in that painting – it was all about me. It wasn’t until I started doing my cityscapes that I started to think about society. But even then those are reflections of how I feel about living in an urban environment. I grew up on an island in Maine, so even though I’ve lived in cities the past 15 years I still feel a rush of claustrophobia that I can’t seem to escape.


City VII – Roses – Greg Mason Burns (2014) – Is this Modernism?

The cityscape above is indeed both an emotional response and a statement of society. I feel claustrophobic not just because of my background, but also because cities are crushing our senses and taking away our ability to live freely and create on our own terms. That sounds distinctively Modernist in that it speaks about creativity being thwarted by a collection of the masses. Cities have lots of rules, and lots of ways to keep us satisfied if something isn’t quite settling. These are great ways to control creativity and, thus, limit progress.But oddly my closest contributions to Modernism are my figurative paintings. This makes no sense to me, but I get it, too. I don’t paint figurative paintings because I think they’re beautiful, but I choose the subjects because they say something about how I view society. Cluster it and there’s no room for growth. Keep it simple and there’s nothing but space to fill in.


Barcelona Rooftops

Barcelona Rooftops – Greg Mason Burns – 2014

Zapatos de Flamenco

Zapatos de Flamenco – Greg Mason Burns – 2014

Una Vista de Ardales

Una Vista de Ardales – Greg Mason Burns – 2014

Portrait of a Lady

Portrait of a Lady – Greg Mason Burns – 2013
I guess what I’m saying is that I have no clue if I’m a Modernist painter or not. I probably fit in somewhere considering all of the sub-genres that exist, but where? Am I an Impressionist? No. A Cubist? No. Dadaist? Are you kidding? No. I’m not even sure I fit into any of the Expressionist movements either. But therein lies a clue. If Modernism is about progress, then not knowing might lead me to “yes”. After all, knowing would mean rules, and rules don’t lead us to progress.