Interview: Painter Bobbie Burgers

Vancouver artist Bobbie Burgers’ latest exhibition of large-scale floral paintings hints at epic swirls of emotion. The dramatic brushwork and colours evoke a range of powerful feelings of longing, transforming delicate, fleeting petals into something provocative. Read on for Bobbie’s tips on buying art (don’t get rushed into a purchase, and research an artist before buying their work), and why a large piece of art is worth 50 knick-knacks and small frames.

House & Home: You’ve taken a still life subject and given it real emotional charge. What inspires this expressionist approach?

Bobbie Burgers: I started with still lifes because it was an easy way to fall into colour; I am all about colour and movement. In many ways, I have been putting myself through my own school of painting where I break apart the subject matter to represent the passing of time.

Flowers, to me, are the opposite of still. Changing from minute to minute, they are perfect symbols for life, death, yearning, and beauty. My brushstrokes are layered with my own internal charges, depicting anger, frustration, softness, wanting, and more.

H&H: Tell us about the works in your new Bau-xi exhibit, Lovely Fugitive.

BB: Lovely Fugitive is derived from Charles Baudelaire’s poem titled À Un Passante. In this beautiful poem, a man sees a woman in mourning walking down the street and is instantly fascinated by her and drawn to her beauty. These works are about desire, fleeting beauty, and wanting something that you cannot hold onto — whether this is a feeling, an object or a person. No one can hold onto euphoria, it exists in brief and unexpected moments, layered with pain and fear. Ironically, it is this euphoric state, this heightened state of realism, that I am trying to freeze in these paintings. 

H&H: Do you have one favourite piece in your repertoire that you feel represents your work or that is particularly meaningful to you?

BB: In Lovely Fugitive at Bau-Xi Gallery, Toronto, it is the painting titled Thunderous Chaos (shown behind her in portrait, above). I have been wanting to paint in a deep, saturated ox blood colour for the last couple of years, and finally didn’t shy away from the purity of this colour, it is completely primal. I tend to like larger works, I find that they are all consuming and unavoidable. Whether you like them or dislike them, they are present and it makes the viewer present.

H&H: What is your advice on selecting the right piece of art for your home?

BB: Buy artwork that you like, actually really like, not something that is on-trend or chosen solely by someone else. Start a relationship with a gallery, start to learn about art in general and the artists that you are interested in. My relationship with Bau-Xi Gallery has been going for 14 years, and it is a relationship that has been very important both to my artwork and Bau-Xi’s clients. Getting to know the artist and doing research into their philosophy makes the artwork into something so much more than a piece of decoration. Don’t be afraid to ask questions; a good gallery will teach you and steer you in the right direction, not push you into something that is just a sale.

Choose artwork that you will savour for your lifetime; a painting is also one of the few things left in the world that is truly unique and one-of-a-kind. I think bringing that kind of personality into your home also makes your home special; you really have to buy from your heart.

H&H: Some people are intimidated by displaying bold, large-scale artworks in their home. What’s your advice on making it work?

BB: One gets used to large-scale very quickly. A piece of art is an investment that you have for a long time, like a designer piece of clothing. A large-scale replaces 50 nicknacks, vases, small frames, and other small decor pieces. It makes a statement, but more importantly, you build a relationship with it.

I often think that people with the best sense of style will wear classic pieces for years and years, until it becomes part of their personality. It is a commitment to spend the initial amount, but I have watched my mom wear a bracelet from Martha Sturdy for 30 years. It is iconic, and my mom owns that bracelet, it re-invents itself over the decades. A piece of art may move around, you may see it in different ways over the years, but it is something you will cherish and pass down.


H&H: You use a lot of bright colour in your work. Do you take the same approach to decor and fashion?

BB: In my personal style, I try to mimic the colours that I see in nature and the seasons. I do not like aggressive, false colours. In Vancouver we have hazy blues, deep red peonies, loads of blossoms in the spring, crisp fresh greens, and I find these are the colours that I am drawn to.

I also don’t try to be too matchy matchy; I think truth is what shines from my work, and an honest home to me is one that is natural and organic. I don’t stage set our home, I like to think things evolve in a natural way. I buy a fabric because I love it, I am drawn to its history, or to the graphics. I like to work with what I have; in our home we have white walls, and I use that white to allow my colourful pieces space to breathe.

H&H: What does your home in West Vancouver look like? Do you have a favourite room in your home?

BB: We live in a crisp, white, renovated house near the ocean, with a giant pond that you have to cross to get to the front door, just like a moat! I  love our house; when I make breakfast in the morning the sun shines through our huge cedars and hazelnut trees, and I watch our koi from the window.

The home was built in the 1930s and is smaller, with plenty of room to breathe on the large property. My favourite room right now is our bathroom; we finally finished the garden and now we have enough room to pull back the 12-foot curtains and roll back the giant sliders. It feels like our bathtub outside, overlooking the ancient apple trees that are espaliered in the back, and a huge mirrored wall reflects a wall of sculpture we have been working on. I think it is a testament to how good architecture can improve ones life every single day and, like art, should be invested in, thought about, and cherished.

See photos of Bobbie Burgers’ Okanagan weekend home.

Photo sources:
Portraits, Billy Wishloff Artworks, from top: Thunderous Chaos, Transient Modernity, She’s Come Undone, Lovely Fugitive, Love Is Everything and Noble Grief, Bau-Xi Gallery

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