Mastering selfless art with multi-talented illustrator and animator Florence Burns
As someone who is openly queer and with invisible respiratory disabilities, a lot of Florence’s work deals with making art accessible to all those who want (and need) it.
- Joey Levenson
- 30 September 2021
Manchester-based illustrator and animator Florence Burns has been busy “navigating the freelance artist sphere in a post-Coronavirus-shielding, just-graduated, topsy-turvy state,” she tells It’s Nice That. “There’s no textbook on how to navigate the creative industry after isolating within the same four walls for 12-months, and coming out the other side with a completed arts degree and without the comfort of student status.” It’s a mode of being that young artists have become all too familiar with since the advent of Covid-19, but what we admire most about Florence is how her art still radiates a glowing sense of hope and positivity.
“My illustrations are primarily made digitally and their style generally features contrasting fluorescent colour palettes, grainy gradients, and people in strong poses,” they describe. “My work aims to communicate a message or story, evoke an atmosphere and encapsulate the uniqueness of each individual depicted.” As someone who is openly queer and with invisible respiratory disabilities, a lot of Florence’s work deals with making art accessible to all those who want (and need) it.
“Experimenting with interesting perspectives, compositions and exaggerating bodily proportions aids me in this,” Florence says. “Making and selling Risograph prints of my illustrations helps to make this possible as a Riso machine is essentially a high-volume photocopier, allowing for hundreds of prints to be made in a short period of time, and the nature of the printer is that it shifts, creating imperfections and overlapping inks – making each print charmingly unique.” Much of Florence’s hands-on physical skills then go on to influence their beautifully elaborate digital work.
“Valuing the importance of collective action, my practice frequently involves working collaboratively with activists, writers, spoken word performers and public speakers,” Florence adds on what makes their work so distinctly powerful. “Absorbing inspiration from my environment is a given whilst living in Manchester.” By using imagery as a means to confront social and political issues, Florence’s art encourages engagement and progressive social change. It’s more than something to be looked at – it’s to be talked about. Topics of LGBTQIA+ and disability liberation are “hugely significant in prompting, informing and stimulating animations” that Florence creates (including writing, directing, animating, illustrating, and voicing them). “My final outcomes mainly consist of confrontational, social commentary pieces and documentary-based animated films,” she explains.
Portraiture is also a significant element of Florence’s practice (as if she wasn’t skilled enough already). “It is my ambition that my portraits empower the individuals they depict,” they tell us. “With the mental health implications of Covid-19, in addition to an already growing mental health crisis in the UK, I feel that a piece intended to simply help someone feel uplifted has intrinsic value.” It’s this characteristic unwavering dedication to the uplifting of others that makes Florence an artist worth listening to. Her portfolio, essentially, feels discreetly altruistic. “With an emphasis on exploring themes of self-acceptance and self-love, I always illustrate portraits that present people in powerful stances with expressive features.” In doing so, Florence has outreached and connected to many members of the LGBTQIA+ community, especially during the peak of shielding from Covid-19. “Many LGBTQIA+ people found the alone time freeing, using it to explore their self-expression, and I set out to document this,” Florence explains on how this translated to her work. “On the other hand, many were experiencing negative impacts to their mental health due to the loss of interaction with other like-minded, accepting people.” In response, Florence illustrated individuals of the community as a morale booster for them, with the hope that they would feel more supported and less alienated. What did we say about altruism?
No better of Florence’s work demonstrates this as Having an invisible disability…, which is a short film that draws on their personal experiences and aims to question and subvert ableist narratives that “conserve inequalities in favour of non-disabled people,” they tell us. “People are often quick to judge health status based on appearance, and this film works to confront how damaging this can be to those with invisible conditions.” Once again, Florence is at work challenging difficult ingrained ideologies, not just for the sake of herself, but so that others around the world just like them may feel seen, heard, and understood.
Florence Burns: Clownery (Copyright © Florence Burns 2020)
About the Author
Joey is a freelance design, arts and culture writer based in London. He was part of the It’s Nice That team as editorial assistant in 2021, after graduating from King’s College, London. Previously, Joey worked as a writer for numerous fashion and art publications, such as HERO Magazine, Dazed, and Candy Transversal.