|Man on Fire
from Worcester Magazine,
Brian Burris faces infernos, within and without
By Erik Radvon
Combat boots. Shaved head. Natty Ray-Bans.
As the hulking frame of Worcester artist Brian Burris
welcomes you into his studio, the feeling is like you
are going somewhere underground. Somewhere dusty,
old, abandoned, yet still clinging to the underbelly of
Worcester’s social scene, serving some marginal
Not that Burris can be called marginal. In the Worcester art world, Burris is a gale
force of creativity, pumping out art as if his adrenal glands are in constant
overdrive. The fireman/abstract artist/suburban soccer coach has sold over 40
paintings since 2001, the year he returned to art after nearly a decade in self-
There are more than a few stories to tell about Brian Burris. There’s the one
about the 16-year-old kid who left home to join the ranks of Jack Kerouac, Hunter
S. Thompson, and Jackson Pollack in a world of binge drinking, bare-knuckled
brawling, and artistic expression.
Then there’s the story of the one-time Army Reservist and current lieutenant with
the Worcester Fire Department. A certain air that hangs around the people who
make their living doing society’s most important, disturbing, and dangerous jobs,
and nowhere is that air thicker than over the head of Burris.
Next to that, there’s the family man. Wife. Kids. House. Youth Sports. The norm.
Then there’s the story of the Brian Burris who ambles into a quasi-gentrified mill
building at strange hours of the night to drink wine and create striking images on
canvas. The paintings could be called abstract, and they are in the sense that
there are no houses or mallard ducks, but something concrete underlies the
creative fog. The pictures are snapshots from the mind’s eye, or a twisted, fiery
alternate universe version of the mind's eye. One piece looks like the point of
view of a dying man in a desert, glimpsing out onto an ever-expanding horizon
and a sky burning with yellow and orange. Another trades earth tones for stark
reds and blacks, standing out like a fire engine on a city street. And yet another is
barely more than a wisp, a collection of whites and soft blues spinning together in
some ethereal dance.
There is something mysterious and wonderful about Burris’ streak of successful
creative output, and though the hard-knocks resume is 100-percent genuine,
Burris still has too much of his old abstract-expressionist piss and vinegar to
really play the tortured first-responder-turned-artist with a straight face.
“It’s convenient to be able to say that it’s a kind of art therapy, but I don’t know. I
love what I do for a living. It’s that whole adrenaline junkie thing, but in a low key
kind of way,” he says.
Burris holds several showings a year, many through ArtsWorcester and local
galleries, and still a few more in non-traditional places, like an acupuncturist’s
office. He just received word he’s doing a solo show at the Hadley Building.
Last fall, Burris was featured in photographer Scott Erb’s book Twenty Artists of
Worcester. One of Burris’ works provided the cover art for the book.
Since then, Burris has released his own volume, titled Codex: Fragments and
Schemata. The book reproduces many of Burris’ paintings, and pairs them with
writings both poetic and descriptive to create a montage of words and images.
“I put it together in three days, which can beat you up. It makes you tired mentally,
but at the same time you keep wanting to go back to it,” he says.
Burris recently appeared on Mayor Konstantina Lukes’ TV show Coffee with
“You know, you see her at City Council meetings and she is all business, but in
person she is very easygoing and nice. Even though I was watching the tape
afterwards and every movement you make stands out compared to the people
who are used to being on TV, but overall I had a good time,” Burris says.
The firefighter has settled into a new studio space at 75 Webster St., and will
have an open studio night April 3 from 3 to 7 p.m.
The next step in his travels through the world of Worcester art would be to show at
“That would be the next level to jump to; the next watershed moment,” he says.
Until then, Burris will be busy fighting fires — across the city and in his studio —
for many more years to come.
To view more of Brian Burris’ paintings, visit burrisworks.com His book Codex:
Fragments and Schemata is available at the Futon Company and the Aurora
Gallery (ArtsWorcester), Main Street, Worcester.