'My heart had to come back to the prairie'


Marione Martin

Deborah Burian's "Prairie Reflections" represents her new-found knowledge of relections and her love of the prairie. Burian is one of the featured artists during June at Graceful Arts Gallery in Alva.

Indian paintbrush, thistles and prairie grasses are subjects that artist Deborah Burian knows well. Her paintings are displayed at Graceful Arts Gallery in Alva during June. The Oklahoma City painter works primarily in watercolor or in mixed water media "which is acrylic and anything else it takes to make the mark," she said. However, she's doing more work in oils these days.

"I prefer to do somewhat abstract work," says Burian. "With the advent of digital photography, I find being truly representational is less interesting to me and I suspect to the viewer."

It was a childhood of isolation that started Burian in her art career. "I grew up in very rural Ohio. We think of Ohio as more metropolitan, but's so rural that as a state a couple of years ago, I was trying to send my mother something on Amazon. Neither Amazon nor Google maps could find her address," she said.

"We lived out there in such a remote area that we didn't have any of the traditional norms of entertainment. We could occasionally get a radio signal, but we did not have a telephone. We did not have television. We didn't have any of that. So I grew up in the woods next to my family's home. And we were always sketching and reading and learning about the plants and animals."

Later in childhood she began to work extensively in fiber. "I did a lot of quilting, making things out of fabric, whatever scraps we had around," Burian said. "I used to design and create my own embroidery patterns. As I got older, I found myself drawn more and more to painting as a medium. So I moved away from fiber and started working in paint about 20 years ago now.

"Fortunately, I had the skills in drawing because I'd grown up drawing and color theory, if you will. Working in fiber and not having a more representative subject really requires you to have some knowledge of how they (colors) go together."

Falling in Love with the Prairie

Burian's move from Ohio to Oklahoma was a big change in perspective. "The first time I saw the high plains, I just fell in love all over again. They are so vast and the subtleties of the color are so amazing that I did – I just fell into this rabbit hole of beauty and have been trying to replicate it ever since."

She said, "For me growing up in rural Ohio and transporting myself to the plains, it's always been about the grasslands more than the great majestic vistas – the mountains and the ocean and that sort of thing. I realize that not everybody sees that so it's super important in my work to represent those subtleties that not everyone sees. I'm trying my best to get people to just stop, look and listen."

Burian described how one of her paintings in the Alva display began. "One of them is literally just some dried up thistles that in that moment were so beautiful to me that I sat down – had to sit down twice because the first time I sat down on some grass burrs – and worked in my sketchbook and with colors just trying to communicate just how breathtakingly lovely something that simple could be in that moment on that prairie."

A Canadian Experience

An experience last fall gave her work a new viewpoint. She had the opportunity to be the artist in residence on a remote island in northern Ontario. "I was in the Canadian Shield (also called the Laurentian Plateau) just below the Arctic Circle about three hours north of Toronto. They took me out there on a boat, dropped me off with my supply of food and my art supplies and left," she said.

"So there was this sort of breathtaking moment where it was just me and the island and a little bit of solar heat and a composting toilet and a cabin. I got to spend that time looking at nature and looking at the lake and advancing my practice in oil. Because I had been particularly interested in working in oil that was the only medium I brought. So there wasn't going to be any copping out and falling back on a medium I might be more familiar with like watercolor."

This completely different environment surrounded by water gave her that new perspective. "Everywhere I looked, there were reflections. I found myself getting really, really engaged in the reflections and seeing the subtleties of how those both reflected and reshaped the landscape around them. So I brought those studies home with me from northern Ontario and promptly discovered that I'm still a prairie girl."

A Collision of Island and Prairie

Burian said, "Much of this show this year I say is a collision between my island residency and my prairie love. The large painting in this show is called 'Prairie Reflections', and it's because I literally went out and found some water and used my new-found knowledge of how to look at and interpret reflections to paint the prairie.

"I'm thrilled to have that residency experience, but I'm almost internally astonished by how much I had to bring that experience back to the prairie. I couldn't just paint a northern Canadian lake with the pine trees and the loons – fortunately I did see loons one day – and make that be my work. It did not work for my heart. My heart had to come back to the prairie."

Her Canadian residency experience advanced both her understanding of the medium of oil and how to look at reflections in a new way. "I hope you see that reflected in this show, and I'm just really, really pleased with where it has brought me today," she said.

A video of Burian's interview may be seen at http://www.AlvaReviewCourier.com and her work will be on display at Graceful Arts Gallery in Alva throughout June.


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