5 Questions with RON BURNS
The dogs Ron Burns has painted over the past 20 years all come from different backgrounds — beloved family pets, victims of abuse or neglect, shelter dogs searching for a loving home, even a bomb detection dog who was the only canine victim of 9/11 — but each painting shares a glimpse of the animal’s personality in Burns’ now-trademark bright colors.
Visitors to Mesa Contemporary Arts can peruse many of these paintings, along with other examples of Burns’ art, at a free retrospective exhibit running through Aug. 11.
Here, Burns chats about the dogs he’s met during the past 20 years and how they’ve inspired him.
Q: The first thing that sticks out about your paintings is that they’re really bright, really colorful. Why do you choose that style?
A: I think it’s because the first part of my life I had a design business and worked with corporations, and a lot of the corporations at that time only wanted really earth-tone colors, like burgundy and forest green. When I started painting, I loved contemporary art, and contemporary art has traditionally been known for bright colors. I like the unity bright colors give to dogs and cats and how they show the energy of cats and dogs.
Q: Why do you paint dogs and cats?
A: Basically, it’s because I rescued a dog named Rufus, and one day, when I was looking around for something I could paint for years and years and years to come that really filled my heart, I looked down at Rufus. Since I loved him so much, I thought, ‘Well, I’ll paint him.’
Since he was a rescued shelter dog, I then started working with shelter dogs and helping shelters, and it’s just evolved into what I’m doing today. It all started because of my rescue dog Rufus.
Q: You also work with the Humane Society and other animal groups, trying to make sure that these animals are treated correctly. How did you get involved with those?
A: The first paintings I did were of my cats and dogs, and my wife said she didn’t like me selling paintings of my cats and dogs. So, while I was vacationing in Aspen, Colo., I took some time and drove over to a shelter and took some photographs. I did some paintings from the photos, and when I sold them, I gave a percentage back to the shelter.
That was over 20 years ago, and I’ve been doing similar charity work ever since. I just think that shelter dogs and therapy dogs and rescue dogs — their stories need to be told, and I can tell their stories through my paintings.
Q: During the years, have any dogs stood out with stories that really touched you?
A: Lots of them. There’s one on my Facebook page right now that’s really emotional, but I think the one I’m going to be known for is the bomb detection dog, Sirius, who lost his life in 9/11. I did that painting because I knew that the handler was going through a lot of pain, losing his dog in that event. So I did that painting, and I gave a reproduction of it to him, and now the original painting of Sirius is going to hang in the 9/11 museum so people for years and years and years to come are going to see that painting of that particular dog and just how he gave his life for our country.
There are a lot of other stories: dogs that were to be euthanized and (survived euthanization attempts) three or four times, dogs that were thrown away in bags because they couldn’t walk and were rescued and adopted and brought back to walking and (were) loved.
Q: How do you find these dogs, and do you spend time with them and get to know them before painting?
A: I try to whenever I can, but now that I do paintings of people’s dogs that are from around the country or shelters around the country, I have to rely on the Internet and people sending me photos or videos to try to get to know the dogs. I always ask them to send me a story about their human-animal connection, their bond with their pets, and through all that, I’m able to pretty much capture their dog the way they would like to have it painted. I don’t really get to meet with every dog anymore.
If you go
What: “The Dogs of Ron Burns,” a retrospective collection of paintings.
When: On display 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays, and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 11
Where: Mesa Contemporary Arts at Mesa Arts Center, 1 E. Main St.
Cost: Free admission
Information: (480) 644-6560 or MesaArtsCenter.com (click on Museum)
• Julia, a junior at Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, is an intern for the East Valley Tribune. Contact her at (480) 898-6514 or firstname.lastname@example.org.