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Friday, January 20, 2012


(Pic by Deanne Donaldson: Installation by Martin Burnett)

Artist Dee Donaldson pays tribute to a friend and colleague.

My students and I shared a studio at ArtSPACEdurban with Martin for many years.

When Martin first moved to ArtSPACE (and before I had met him face to face) … I arrived one morning to find a row of pristine white tables in the studio. There were white shelves with carefully-placed objects on them: Shoes, old suitcases, satchels … contents unknown … His side of the room looked like a very white and very ordered museum. White chairs. A white easel with white coat on it … a white canvas …

Mr Burnett, I thought, must be one of those intimidatingly neat artists … who only works in white! I’d better clean up my side of the room!

Sitting down to write some words for Martin, a quote by British author Jeanette Winterson keeps coming to mind. Expanding on the process of art making she says “I live in the space between chaos and shape “

The Museum upstairs grew. Objects began, at first unnoticeably, to overflow their white boundaries … and off the shelves. Martin arrived most mornings, with more and more treasures that the city had discarded.

I don’t know many people who inhabit the city quite like Martin did. He knew it. He uses its buses and its taxis, he talked to people, exchanged recipes on public transport. He wandered through the roads and alleys. He noticed pretty much Everything.

I know there are others, who have been on a mini road-trip with Martin to photograph an abandoned couch or the remains of a burnt building, an unhinged gate or the surface of a wall - at 12:48 - because that’s when “the light’s just right …” Or loaded some extremely large insect-infested wooden vestige into their car while he lovingly examined and stroked its surfaces and exquisitely eaten lines.

The white museum, however, was being taken over, consumed, covered … inch by inch (an intriguing and somewhat scary performance in itself). The evolution from ‘shape’ into inevitable ‘chaos’…

To talk about collage or mixed media would seem too dry to describe Martin’s process. When he assembled or grouped things together; a poetic dialogue began between texture, words, fragments, colours, tones and shapes. Stories about time, personal histories and forgotten things emerge, … There was the sensitivity of Martin the painter in the arrangements, but also very often, the evidence of his lovely sense of humour. To have seen the world this way is a rare and beautiful thing.

Our studio was always part chaos and part shape … Installations of red, white, yellow, green, purple or blue would blossom out of the centre of it all. Martin was always there with a cup of coffee for me on the days I had class. He was always eager and generous in the sharing of his knowledge and skills with all of us. He knew when we were out of sugar and whose birthday it was. He brought me Marigolds and organized the studio … He was a central part of the family we have upstairs at ArtSPACE.

My generous, complex friend you will be So missed for ALL your qualities by ALL of us. I hope it’s “easier to be an artist” where you are…I know how hard you said you found it here … so often.

Rest in Peace. Much love - Dee