Matthew Denton Burrows is a storyteller; he is a visual activist, an illustrator and the narrator of the wonderful world within Denton Burrows art. You do not just look at his work, you get lost in it.
Following his 2013 graduation from the School of Visual Arts, Burrows has accomplished a crazy successful solo-exhibition at Greenpoint Gallery and the title of Project Manager at Center-Fuge Public Art Project, which allows him to legally bless us with his work on the streets. Most recently, PAPER Magazine nominated the young artist as one amongst “9 New York-Based Street Artists to Watch.”
If we could describe Matthew Denton Burrows’ work in three words, we would say, brilliant with intention.
You are not only an artist but also a “visual” activist. Do you think art should be used as a campaign to bring social change and awareness?
Activism can take many forms. I do not believe I am an artist and an activist, but simply an artist. Art has always been a platform for messages of social change and awareness. I think public art such as street art and graffiti is perhaps the best artistic platform for awareness. Public art is political by nature. An artist painting in public, for the public, is itself a political act, especially if the money for the mural comes out of his or her own pocket. Artists have always been thinkers and have often lived on the edge of or within subcultures of society. They are naturally curious and throughout history have been instrumental in shaking up the status quo. Artists therefore have a unique, valid, and powerful view of the world and they should not take their platform for expression lightly. This does not mean every artist must be seething with political intent in his or her work, but I do believe an artist has a responsibility to be aware of his or her power through public expression. Every work I make has some degree of political statement or social commentary, but it is often hidden, open ended, and subject to interpretation. Ultimately, regardless of the purpose or message, the work, primarily, must be visually interesting.
You were recently voted as one of New York’s top artists to “watch.” Aside from being a talented individual, what do you think is the next top quality to be a successful artist?
I honestly do not believe talent is the “top” quality. I have seen many people who, although they can draw perfectly, commonly called “talent,” lack the ability to create beyond their talent. Many famous artists were not highly skilled artistically in terms of proficiency with a brush or pen, but their mind was their talent. Their capacity to be ahead of their time, create meaningful messages, or communicate across lingual and racial borders was the reason for their success. Being an artist is not just being skilled in a medium, but it is a way of being, of seeing, and, most of all, of communicating. An artist must have the ability to open themselves to endless new experiences, ways of thinking, visuals, and aesthetics.
What is the strangest, or most memorable, thing anyone has said about Denton Burrows art?
I have always been pleased when my work reminds people of Bosch and R. Crumb, two amazing artists whom I have learned from and admire greatly. However, the most memorable and meaningful thing anyone has said happened at my last solo show, this past November at Greenpoint Gallery in Brooklyn. For the first time in a gallery setting, I accompanied each piece in the show with an explanation of the social commentary and political implications behind the work. I encouraged people to read them, promising an enhanced intellectual and visual experience. Many people, who, to my great appreciation, read all the writing, said it was a meaningful addition to the visual show. Towards the end of the evening, one couple came up to me after having read every word and studied every piece. They shook my hand and then the women said, “We would vote for you.” For someone whose art is about pointing out issues in society, informing people about them through a visual medium, and adding my own take and predictions, that was one of the most memorable things said about my work. The fact that the visual message and the written message achieved cohesion in the mind of these people, which was clear and poignant enough for them to say, “We would vote for you,” really meant a lot. I think art has more power than many people realize. I have witnessed its power repeatedly in the public sphere since I have been working for Centre-Fuge Public Art Project, but that exchange at the Greenpoint Gallery was one of the most powerful moments in a gallery setting for me.
To find out more about Matthew Denton Burrows, please visit: http://dentonburrows.com