Feature: Virgil Burnett

Virgil Burnett

Untitled (face), lithograph (broadside poem), n.d.

The work of Virgil Burnett stands as some of the most celebrated and respected within the Stratford arts community.  Although a locally admired artist, Burnett’s valuable contributions to the fields of painting, sculpture and illustration led him to the point of international recognition and success. Originally born in Kansas, Burnett would go on to travel the world to further the development of his work.  Most recently Burnett was a professor of fine arts at the University of Waterloo where he inspired both studio art and art history students in working towards the advancement of progressive community art and arts awareness.

Burnett’s work threads together various styles upon which he arrives at a unique intersection of theories and processes of art. His body of work references at once the intricate detail and subjects of Classical sculpture, the heightened reality captured by Romantic masters such as Eugene Delacroix, whom he studied in great detail at the University of California, Berkley, and the aestheticism of 19th Century Art Nouveau ink illustrations.

Although recognized by many as an expressive sculptor and painter of the human figure, it holds that Burnett’s intimate illustrations provide some of the best opportunities to reflect on his profound sense of imagination. These illustrations often play on the tensions between mythology and reality, where subjects from ancient Greek and Roman pagan culture are reconstructed and rethought, bearing at once the weight of modern experience and the wisdom of art historical development. It seems that for Burnett, these forces of time are not separate at all but rather depend on each other and together allow us to fully realize the present moment.

Gallery Stratford was proud to present “Virgil Burnett: Between Line and Form” in January 2011, an exhibition that focused on the artist’s mastery of illustration, most notably those works in which he combines poetic verse and delicate human figures. Gallery Stratford remembers Virgil Burnett and looks to preserve his memory through such work.