WARNING: You are about to enter BobLand.
Cross this threshold and there's no turning back.
Forward to the 2000 BobLand Show by David Larson.
Allow me to relate the tale of how I became hopelessly lost in BobLand...
Once upon a time I saw a painting by Robert Burridge, fell in love with it and acquired it. It became my obsession. It was full of hearts – Burridge hearts. Bob is known for his hearts. They're otherworldly with a life of their own. Where had they come from and where were they going? I called Robert and asked, "If I divine the secret behind these hearts and reveal it in book form will you paint their story?" In a weak moment, obviously also under the spell of his hearts' siren song, Robert said yes. That was over two years and five drafts ago. Our simple children's picture book has grown into an epic saga and Robert is now slaving away in his studio bringing this fantastic tale to life.
The moral is, once you enter BobLand your life may never be the same...
The Genesis of an Artist
In the course of putting our book together I've been fortunate to visit the source of BobLand, the Burridge studio – and a wondrous place it is. Working so closely with Bob has provided some insight into the source of his paintings' compelling power.
It's tempting to attribute Robert's success simply to his being blessed with "the gift." But nothing could be further from the truth. Sometimes reconnecting with our natural creative side is, in actuality, a painstaking voyage of rediscovery. Many of Robert's myriad life pursuits made vital contributions to his artistic evolution.
Robert was a pioneer industrial designer. The first electronic desktop calculator? Robert invented it. Ever seen the giant wind turbines scattered around California? Robert designed an integral part that facilitated their development. Collaborating with leading surgeons, Robert created instruments used in today's innovative brain and heart surgical procedures. "Clear!" never echoed through the emergency room until Robert introduced the two-paddle defibrillator. Remember that giant Westinghouse circuit breaker thrown in Jurassic Park? That was yet another Burridge brainstorm.
We nearly had a Father Robert; some of his earlier years were spent in a seminary studying for the priesthood. He also used to run one of the largest advertising agencies in Santa Barbara – talk about slugging it out in the trenches! Conversely, would you believe that Robert was once a circus trapeze artist? A magician? He's still swings through the air and conjures illusions, only now his medium is paint.
Besides his degrees in art, Robert is currently a faculty member at Allan Hancock College. Naive simplicity? In the theatre we used to say you had to know the rules before you could break them. Bob's effortless ease with a brush is actually the byproduct of a lifetime of hard work in numerous disciplines; an insatiable curiosity about life, art and the creative process; and years of "just painting my ass off!"
While watching Robert paint, one discovers that his creative wellspring is his intuition; he often just splashes paint on a canvas, pushes it around, and sees what emerges. It's almost like conjuring – he lets the painting work on him instead of the other way around. His paintings appear to tell him what they need. In fact, Robert has confessed, not only does he talk to his paints, they talk back to him!
His painting reminds me of a jazz musician's improvising. There's a riveting immediacy, a total surrender to the creative impulse. Too much deliberation stifles inspiration. A hallmark of Robert's painting style is an incredible freedom, bordering on reckless abandon, generating a sense of danger. Who'd have thought you'd discover a daredevil behind the easel?
Many of us don't put brush to paper because we're afraid the results will be flawed or stupid. Robert's credo? "Don't paint with your brakes on." If you don't like it, redo it or toss it out. But letting your critical side control you ensures you'll never fulfill your potential. The fear of "What if it's wrong?" betrays us.
Robert tackles this hurdle head on in his painting workshops. He begins by handing out little sheets of paper with "PERMISSION" printed on them. For many of his students this is their first experience with true creative freedom in a nurturing environment. Bob demands they paint for themselves rather than for the approval of others. The result is not only creatively stimulating, but life-changing as well. Robert is empowering artists and liberating souls.
An old adage suggests we don't truly know our subject until we teach it. By rigorously applying his teaching philosophy to his own work, Robert has eliminated the gap between the creative impulse and what hits the canvas. His painting recalls a child playing in a sandbox – better not get too close or you'll get splattered. No painting within conventional boundaries for this creative maelstrom. Robert rolls up his sleeves and wades right into a painting. I've seen him splash a completely contrasting gob of paint onto a practically perfect canvas. I've seen him obliterate sections over which he's labored for hours. He's so irreverent towards his work; nothing is safe. But his instincts are invariably unerring and he's learned to trust them implicitly, to give them free rein.
The Magical Result
Perhaps this spontaneity is at the root of Burridge's widespread appeal. Sometimes, upon close examination, isolated items don't seem to "make sense" by themselves. When viewed amongst the whole, however, they resonate spectacularly. We can't always put our finger on what draws us into Robert's work, but something not only speaks to us, it hollers, "Hey, come in here, look what I've found!"
Robert's art not only evokes strong emotional responses but physical ones, too. The only time I've experienced this was during the fall change of leaves back East. This spectacular riot of color literally took my breath away. I have this same reaction walking through an opening of new Burridge paintings. It feels like I'm being tugged along the very paths Robert explored when he captured these visions. It's an exhilarating sensation, like running down a rocky hill too fast when, abruptly, your instincts engage, intuitively guiding each step until suddenly you're flying! I'm left almost speechless and wearing a huge smile on my face – as if I'd just gotten off that new colossal roller coaster at the amusement park.
Once again, Robert Burridge's paintings go beyond simply tickling our intellects – they awaken our senses, hone our intuition and take us to a magical place. And after all, isn't that why we need art in our lives?
Now that I think about it, I'm never leaving BobLand!
David Larson, April 2000
Author, Heart Air Balloons
Assistant Director, Just Shoot Me, NBC