Lael Burns’ artwork is delicate dance. The murky, fleshy shapes and celestial glitter bodies tell a story of opposites that interact. It is a painful struggle. Within the intricacy of this exchange, of these gruesome and pleasing elements, there is beauty.
“Making art has always been a way for me to process life and is just something that ‘clicked’ with me from early on,” says Burns, who lives and works in the Fort Worth, Texas area. The shapes in Burns’ artwork developed in her childhood. “I used to have this huge magnolia tree in my yard growing up, and the buds that fall off the tree fascinated me. In middle school, I started drawing them and thinking about other biological and organic forms as a representation of my inner self, so it’s a means of communication and expression I adopted that I still use.” Burns placed a high value on her creativity from a young age, due to support from her family and teachers. Art became a necessity in her young life. “When I was in middle school I feel like I really turned to art as means of survival during some dark family circumstances and just never stopped making.”
The Space between Two Worlds
Viewing much of what Burns creates is an experience of repugnance and awe. Confronted with an element that is ugly and strange, it is hard to look away from its relation to what is beautiful. Organic forms in her current work are like wombs and gnarled roots, an outpouring of her psyche and spirit that comes from a deeply spiritual place. The lure of darkness and the pursuit of connection to God are ever-present themes. This duality of existence is shown as the visual layers of human nature and the spirit. On the canvas, the distorted being (human nature) still possesses the spark of true life (spirit) that what will remain after death and presently reaches for connection with the heavenly realm.
What has had a powerful effect on her canvases is the renewal of Burns’ soul at the age of twenty-seven when she pursued Christian faith. Like the tension between what is ugly and beautiful, the past and the present are relevant aspects of what the artist communicates with forms. “I think much of my work prior to this major change was dealing with similar ideas and themes. I was just on the other side of it. I was heavily steeped in church and Christianity growing up, but I was angry and running from Christ, whereas now my work is a picture of a person finally yielded to and remade by Christ.” There is a heavy sense of matter in the bulbous forms that rise from the page. Bright airy clouds and shrouds of smoke balance the weight. The colors, and glitter accents, harken to the light in the soul. “The most exciting, driving aspect of my work to me now is continuing to experience healing and deliverance from God and watching how that plays out visually. It’s a process that will continue until I die.”
The Process of Believing Beauty
Burns’ life is also a balance, one that she approaches with a spiritual flow. She is a wife, mother of two small children, and manages to dive deeply into the creative process while they nap or play outside. While motherhood often pulls artists away from their practice, Burns found balance in an at-home residency and support network for mothers. “I did a 6 month long residency with An Artist Residency in Motherhood which really helped reframe the way I was thinking about my work after I had our second child and I stopped working.” Burns was formerly a high school art teacher. “It was a big adjustment to go from working full time and being away from my children so much, to being home all the time with then a newborn and a toddler. It was a big adjustment emotionally and for my studio practice, but such a good one.” Some sessions meant creating with the kids, while others were fruitful moments like the ones that she finds in her day now. ARIM helped her set the tone for being a creative person and a mother. “[It] helped me get in contact with other artist mothers and reinvent a studio practice that works with my situation once my daughter got a little older.”
Burns now home schools both children while maintaining her studio practice. She does not keep a rigid creative schedule, but lets her studio time fall into a unique pattern each day. She often works on several pieces, assembly-line style, somehow knowing what each different piece needs at the same time. It is unconventional, but helps her maintain a certain level of productivity. The process is successful, considering that new pieces are frequently popping up on her Instagram account.
Burns’ current sculptural exhibit at Fort Worth’s Art 7 Gallery is wrapping up soon. The artist will continue to find inspiration in the spiritual aspects of her life and seek balance one day at a time. “You’re only going to be able to get so much done if you are with your children, and I’ve just made peace with that. I’m learning and enjoying this season of less structure and just ‘going with the flow’ and staying in the place of joy and freedom. I know it’s so cliché, but my children will only be little this one time and I want to enjoy it.”
Learn more about Lael here: