As a child growing up in the small town of Wisbech in the Fens of Cambridgeshire, the artist Richard Burton would often be found drawing. And, like most children, Richard had a fixation – not animals, friends or monsters, but cars. “I remember one particular poster I had of a BMW with its doors open to reveal luxurious seating,” says Richard. “The aesthetics of car interiors, as well as other modes of transport have always been exciting to me.”
Today, transportation still features as one of the main themes throughout Richard’s work, with leather seats – like those found in aeroplanes and trains – a recurring motif. But rather than focusing solely on the physicality of vehicles, now Richard’s work interrogates the experience of being a passenger, the “banality, repetition and longing” that comes with it, and “the possibility of escape and renewal that this represents”.
When observing the hazy, lower-pigment style Richard has developed, it might come as a shock to learn that it's created using oil paints – a method that opposes the dense colours and tones usually associated with the medium. This is because Richard doesn’t use oils in the ‘traditionally’ heavy way, instead he uses them very thinly, “almost like watercolour”. For darker paintings, Richard begins with distemper paint on linen, then making them “glow” with layers of white and glaze on top.
But perhaps the most important visual aspect for Richard is the surface of his paintings: “even if the image is interesting, the surface should be just as exciting”. Currently, Richard’s lighter paintings have sand mixed into their primer, creating what Richard describes as a “fresco-like surface”. This method proves particularly effective in the painting Pale King, the grains of sand alongside the strong white highlights accentuating the hazy, ethereal effect that makes Richard’s work so captivating.
This crafting of futuristic, sci-fi-like visuals with traditional methods like oil and fresco makes sense when learning of Richard’s favourite paintings – those from history that challenge the conventional atmosphere and themes of the period they were created. Richard admires Giorgio de Chirico’s 1914 Mystery and Melancholy of a Street for the “emotion” it exudes, a painting loosely based on Turin, but painted from memory. “He puts us in the shadows, and despite the painting’s beauty there is a very real sense of dread, a combination I find seductive,” Richard says.
Much like Chirico’s work, Richard aims to provoke feelings in his audience, but not necessarily simple or positive ones. “I would like to provoke a feeling that what you are looking at is familiar but you can’t quite place it – a feeling of being unnerved. Within this reality perhaps you’re on holiday, perhaps you’re at work, or maybe the line has blurred between those states,” says Richard. “You’re waiting, but you don’t know what for.”
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.