Current or Recent Events and Reviews

  • Everything and the kitchen sink: 'RISD Faculty Biennial' an abundance of creative firepower

    • By Bill Van Siclen
  • Journal Arts Writer 
  • Posted Feb. 26, 2015 at 12:01 AM
  • Updated at 6:00 AM 
  • Museum exhibitions come in many different shapes and sizes. There are small scholarly exhibitions that examine a single topic — sometimes even a single artwork — in microscopic detail. There are blockbuster shows that feature the work of famous artists or which chronicle important periods in art history. 
    And then there are exhibits like the "RISD Faculty Biennial," a sprawling, everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink show featuring the work of staff and faculty at the Rhode Island School of Design. If Walmart or Home Depot hosted an art exhibit, it might look a lot like this every-other-year extravaganza.
    This year's biennial, which runs through March 22 at the RISD Museum, is a typical exercise in sensory overload.
    Packed with works by more than 180 artists, it easily fills two floors of RISD's Chace Center, along with a host of smaller spaces and sub-galleries. The result is everything a "RISD Faculty Biennial" should be: big, colorful, occasionally messy, at times exhausting, but filled with plenty of creative firepower.
    Indeed, if you're in the right mood, the show's eclectic approach can be an asset. Unlike its more famous cousin, the Whitney Biennial, the "RISD Faculty Biennial" is largely un-curated — meaning that the artists themselves get to choose the artworks, not professional museum curators or administrators.
    That means the art you see — and in a faculty biennial that means everything from prints and paintings to handcrafted jewelry and furniture to cutting-edge video and installation art — was selected by the people who actually made it and who think it best represents what they do. How cool is that?

  • It's also an open invitation for museum-goers to play curator for a day. 

  • Have a thing for Old Master painting? Check out "Allegoria Oscura," a work by Trent Burleson that both respectfully salutes and slyly winks at the work of Renaissance masters such as Raphael and Botticelli. 
  • How about portraits? This year's biennial has some good ones, starting with Anthony Janello's "Anatomy Lesson," a striking self-portrait that shows the artist surrounded by dozens of his favorite drawing tips and maxims.
    Something about the look on his face suggests that students who ignore these lessons do so at their peril.
    Interested in contemporary fashion? Although there's nothing here that rivals the annual "Collection" shows put on by RISD's Apparel Design department, the biennial does feature some eye-catching fashions. A case in point: a jazzy knitwear ensemble by former "Project Runway" star Joseph Aaron Segal.
    Fashion not your thing? How about jewelry, in which case you should seek out "Trifecta," a series of gold pendant necklaces by Robin Quigley that are as perfect in their own way as a trio of Fabergé eggs. Or science, in which case you can learn about the secrets of cloud formation from "The Origin of Clouds," a mesmerizing video by Alejandro Borsani, or the mechanics of flight from "Flight of a Small Brown Cloudyspot," an equally hypnotic video by Dennis Hlynsky. (A cloudyspot, by the way, is a butterfly.) Architecture fans, meanwhile, may want to book a night at the stunning "Sakonnet River Residence" designed by local architects Jack Ryan, Chris Bardt and Kyna Leski.

New painting to be exhibited in the RISD museum in February. Allegoria Oscura, oil, 37" by 37" or 50" by 50" framed. Opening on February 19, 2015.

 Painting exhibited at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art

February 21, 2013 to March 17, 2013

"The Meaning of Life"                     Oil on Canvass


By Bill Van Siclen, The Providence Journal, 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

“Trent Burleson: Birds and Other Metaphors” (through Aug. 17) brings together about 30 paintings by an artist whose work suggests a cross between Salvador Dali and John James Audubon, with a little Maxfield Parrish thrown in for good measure. Granted, it’s an unusual combination, especially when Burleson makes an occasional foray into Renaissance art (notably in a series of portraits that channel the likes of Botticelli and Raphael). Fortunately, Burleson, who’s a professor at the Rhode Island School of Design, has the painting chops — and the classical training — to pull it off.


New York Art Critic, Ed Rubin, Takes to the Road for a Sampling of New England Country Living

Discovering the Hidden Treasures of Newport, Rhode Island

Posted on 26 July 2011 | By Edward Rubin

On the contemporary scene, during my early June visit, I viewed still-current, solo exhibitions by artist China Blue and Trent Burleson, whose work occupies the museum’s largest gallery, with around 22 bird paintings, most dated 2010. This uber-prolific artist is obviously a factory unto himself! Many of his birds soar in full flight, diving for berries and insects amid beautifully-rendered foliage. Though reminiscent of Audubon, they are post modern in their soft colored tones and slightly blurred execution. Viewing Burleson’s paintings, as museum curator Nancy Whipple Grinnell suggests, is as though we are seeing them “through a gossamer veil.” His exhibition ends August 17th. 

Boston Phoenix

 Review: Tom Wolfe at The NMAI and Trent Burleson at the NAM

By GREG COOK  |  July 12, 2011 

Burleson's painting Renaissance Beauty is a bust of a golden-skinned woman with blonde braids bunched on the sides of her head. She stares as us with clear blue eyes. In the background, gold clouds float in patches of blue sky over mountains. The allure of the painting is its Renaissance elegance and a romantic mood derived from a slight soft focus and the subtle contrast of the various gold hues with their chromatic opposite of sky blue. Over and over Burleson returns to that burnished, glowing honey tone that seems to harken to some bygone but tantalizingly not forgotten golden age.

China Blue: Firefly Projects and Trent Burleson: Birds and Other Metaphors

Judith Tolnick Champa

Clusters of robotic fireflies variously occupy and sound in the suitably intimate, dimmed Wright Gallery at the Newport Art Museum, and just across the way, in the large well-lighted Ilgenfritz Gallery, oil paintings depict birds swooping and swooning, their berries and branches seemingly ever out of reach.

Presenting China Blue’s “Firefly Projects” installation in tandem with Trent Burleson’s “Birds and Other Metaphors” is very clever museum programming, each artist quirkily involved with their respective entomological/ornithological subject matter that in each case has historical resonance, both personal and subtly political.

Blue’s “biomimetic” project offers a new take on old-fashioned values, akin to Burleson’s in this way but spoken in a very different artistic language. Using science, she emulates nature through various strategies — substances, processes, devices or systems — notable in this installation by her handmade materials. Blue uses an amateur kit-like way of describing fireflies, or “lightning bugs” — their mating rituals, sounds and magical, elusive coloration at dusk. The media used to create one piece suggesting fireflies caught in four jars are merely “repurposed” pager motors, guitar strings, LEDs, jam jars and plastic bottles.

With her actual low-tech forms for kindling art, China Blue rekindles the conflicted childhood feelings of trapping unusual, intermittently shining, flying lights (insects). The “Firefly Projects” installation contains 2-D representations and 3-D objects, but its centerpiece is a 7 1/2-foothigh pair of fabricated “Firefly Trees” on which blue lights flicker on and off to a translated sound of flies’ mating.

Beyond nostalgia for the wonderment of seeing and catching fireflies, Blue’s understated political message has to do with ecosystem disruption, with the loss of these insects from contemporary life due to our society’s invasive pollution from artificial light.

For his part, Trent Burleson also gets lost productively — and we viewers are brought closely along — in his staunch love of Renaissance painting, especially his fascination with “disegno” and “chiaroscuro.” His skillful figural images, surprising if not peculiar in their shape harmonies played out in oil on canvas against warm, if frequently tonguein- cheek, exaggerated “old master” tonalities, always richly convey the availability of classicism’s precedent.

Artscope, New England's Culture Magazine, July 2011



‘Three Warblers — Caterpillar’

‘Diving Warbler with Insect’

‘Red Bird Diving’

Painter Trent Burleson takes an alternative approach to ornithological scenes, separating birds from their surroundings

‘Birds and Other Metaphors’
Trent Burleson
May 21 through Aug. 17
Newport Art Museum, 76 Bellevue Ave., Newport
(401) 848-8200


Perfect beauty, it seems, is always just out of reach.

Trent Burleson, shown at his Rumford home, takes a surreal, often darkly comic, approach to portraying birds, landscapes, people and still life. Photo by Meredith Brower)

When it comes time to be a critic, most of us find that pointing out blemishes, imperfections and faults tends to be a sanctimoniously easy task. While it’s a mistake to say that nothing in this world is beautiful (there are certainly a great many beautiful things), it is less of a stretch to suggest that not many of us have stumbled upon a scene of pure, flawless beauty.

Which is why a formal composition of objects arranged in harmonious balance has a certain power to it. The canvas within the rectangle is a world unto itself. Instead of merely representing, this is a world with the power of creation. When Trent Burleson paints, he is the creator of his own ideal world, now on display at the Newport Art Museum in his solo exhibition, “Birds and Other Metaphors.”

Burleson, 58, a professor of painting and drawing at the Rhode Island School of Design, paints beguilingly flawless (semi-) real subjects. His large canvases depict landscapes, still lives, portraits and a series of birds; all are tinged with a sense of the surreal, often to dark, comedic effect.

He will remove objects from landscapes to make the image nicer. He will alter the proportion of his subjects to build a harmony with the surrounding elements. Painters do this all the time. Paint is not a photograph; it isn’t bound to pure documentation. But Burleson alters the world within his painting with a certain sort of reverence.

“I’d create, I guess, an ideal world, the world as I wish it was,” he recalls with an element of profound inevitability, “because that seemed to have some point to it.” 
Burleson’s fixation with this ubiquitous quality of unblemished beauty comes from a fascination with the great painters of the Renaissance period. He spits out their names one after another — Caravaggio, Leonardo, Raphael, Botticelli — never going longer than 10 minutes in a conversation about his work without recalling another timeless master.

“I was thinking of assignments for my students,” he recalls, explaining how he came to emulate the Renaissance maestros with his “Madonna and Child” series. “And the assignment might be: Look at the Renaissance painters; look at their conception of beauty. And, of course, if you paint the Madonna, she should be an ideal kind of beauty. So as a sort of a challenge, I thought, ‘Well, what if I could try to paint a painting as if I was a Renaissance artist’ … come up with an original painting, but paint it as if it was the time.”

The result is a saturated take on the classic image. An oblique sense of gloom, not overpowering, seems to seep out of the paint. Burleson’s Madonna resonates with a sad, still sense of beauty that toys with the notion of “classical.” The image recalls a familiar composition but lingers on new and complicated emotions. There is a self-consciousness to the picture — it knows it’s a ruse and has fun wishing.

This self-awareness permeates many of Burleson’s paintings, and in his Bird series, for which he is perhaps best known, this awareness reaches an emotional apex. “They don’t really look very much like real birds that you’d see in a bird book,” he is quick to point out.

There is a striking sense of dark surrealism here. This is a group of scowling, screeching, maleficent winged creatures almost superimposed onto a muted landscape of dark boughs and shadowed leaves. They fight for berries and dive toward their prey, but it is not their actions that mark their presence so much as their illusive quality within the composition. The birds seem apart from their surroundings; they are highlighted somehow beyond the traditional category of the subject to take on a new level of eclipsing importance.

“Many people paint birds … their birds might be about how pretty their feathers are, and how cute it is when they chirp … my birds are not about that.”
The titillating, playfully evil birds are Burleson’s most evocative work, weighted with attitude in a way that his idealistic portraits and landscapes can’t compete with. “I think it’s my personality; it’s just who I am,” he explains. “They’re my conception of birds and they have some naiveté to them.”

Here within the somber dream world Burleson’s art seems most at home. These naive birds spring from a creative mind that can’t not reshape the world into a more ideal place. His world is on display until Aug. 17.

A Members’ Reception for summer 2011 exhibits, including “Trent Burleson: Birds and Other Metaphors,” “China Blue: Firefly Projects,” “Remembering the Ladies: Women and The Art Association of Newport,” and “Things with Wings,” is Friday, June 10, from 5-7 p.m. at the Newport Art Museum. Free for members; $10 suggested donation for nonmembers.

I’m no art critic, but there’s something wonderfully Magritteish about a few of the canvases in Trent Burleson: Birds and Other Metaphors — the tone of the feathers, the atmosphere of the sky, that blend of real/surreal. In the course of his career, the RISD prof has moved from landscapes to still lives to a celebration of the Old Masters. But the action of flight led him to this ornithological turn: “I love these paintings because of the narrative the birds create; they’re flying, they’re going somewhere.” He likes the dabs of exaggeration that mark his canvases: “If I was a naturalist, I would make the birds more realistic; paint them with a higher degree of verisimilitude.” That arty aura is key to Burleson’s work, which is at the Newport Art Museum, 76 Bellevue Avenue, through August 17 | 401.848.8200

The Boston Phoenix, May 20011



Newport Art Museum
Press ReleaseFor Immediate Release
April 26, 2011


Gayle Hargreaves

Director of Marketing

(401) 848-8200 or (401) 338-8563

Trent Burleson: Birds and Other Metaphors

May 21 - August 17, 2011

Newport Art Museum

NEWPORT, RI: In his latest series of oil paintings, Rhode Island artist Trent Burlesonexplores the formal elements of painting through dynamic and achingly beautiful bird images. "Trent Burleson: Birds and Other Metaphors" opens at the Newport Art Museum in Newport, Rhode Island on Saturday, May 21 and runs through Wednesday, August 17, 2011. The exhibition also includes several paintings from the artist's Madonna and Child series. The Museum hosts a reception for its early summer exhibitions on Friday, June 10, 5 - 7 pm, 76 Bellevue Avenue. The reception is free for Museum members. A $10 donation is suggested for non-members.

In Burleson's paintings, birds vie for a vulnerable morsel, dive with grace and focused intent,

Burleson Diving Warbler with Insect

Trent Burleson, Diving Warbler with Insect, 2011, Oil on canvas, 34 x 33 in.

or threaten each other with displays of aggression. Their shapes, and the foliage that surrounds them, are softened, blurry even -as though viewed though a gossamer veil. His colors range from muted tones of ochre, brown and gray to more intense shades of yellow, red and green. But always the scenes are illuminated by an unnatural light: things are not quite what they seem.


Early in his career, Burleson was primarily known for his landscapes. Later he moved on to still life renderings of out-sized vegetables and fruits. Later still, he took on the Romantic image of Madonna and child, and created a series of portraits that reference historical Old Master styles.


Regardless of his subject, Burleson says, "All my work is about the same things: composition, structure and geometry. I'm interested in how a painting works, how shapes are repeated, how they relate to each other."


In this latest series, birds are the vehicle through which Burleson explores these formal elements of painting. "I love the dynamic image of the bird, its shape," says Burleson.


His interest also extends to "...the narrative that the birds create. I love the bird paintings because they're flying, they're going somewhere."  In most of these paintings, "the birds are contending for something, they're striving."

This gives the paintings a tremendous sense of energy, over and above the tension and

Burleson REd Bird Diving

Trent Burleson, Red Bird Diving, 2010, Oil on canvas; 24 x 24 in.

cohesion created by his skillful manipulation of light and form. Art critic Edward J. Sozanski, writing for the Providence Journal in 1982, described Burleson's work this way. "The energy and tension ... derive...from the most subtle gravitational balance between dissimilar masses and the delicate shifts in reflected an updated Barbizon style, a kind of stripped-down realism, cool and precisely organized but illuminated by 19th Century Romanticism."
Burleson's birds are beautiful, breathtaking even, but they aren't precisely true-to-life. The artist is not trying to portray the birds with an ornithologist's eye. "If I was a naturalist, I would make the birds more realistic; paint them with a higher degree of verisimilitude."   

Despite the title "Birds and other Metaphors," Burleson declines to offer his own metaphorical interpretations of his paintings. He prefers to let us respond to the work in our own way. Says Burleson, "I invite the viewers to find their own meaning and metaphors."

Charles Trentman Burleson was born in Charlotte, NC in 1952.  He graduated from the Philadelphia College of Art (now University of the Arts) with a Bachelor's degree in Painting and holds a Masters Degree in Painting from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where he has been teaching since 1974. A landscape painting by Burleson was used as the cover for the great American writer Raymond Carver's last book, "Where I am Calling From" in 1988. His paintings have been widely exhibited and are part of many private, corporate, and public collections. 

Associated Event:
Burleson will talk about his work during a "Meet the Artist" luncheon event at the Museum, beginning at noon on Tuesday, July 26. Following the luncheon, Trent will demonstrate chiaroscuro, a technique with origins in the Renaissance and still used today to create depth on a two-dimensional surface by manipulating light and shadow. Trent's demonstration begins at 1 pm. Bring a lunch. Free for Members; $5 for non-members.


Reception for Early Summer Exhibitions
Friday, June 10, 2011
5 - 7 pm
Museum members: free
Non-members: By donation
Meet the Artist
Trent Burleson
Discussion and demonstration over lunch
Tuesday, July 26
12 pm (Demonstration begins at 1 pm)
Museum members: free
Non-members: $5
Bring a lunch.

Newport Art Museum
76 Bellevue Avenue
Newport, RI  02871
Free for Newport Art Museum members, $10 suggested donation for non-members
(401) 848-8200


                                  A second madonna and child painting, oil on canvass, 39" by 33.5",photographed  January 7, 2011.


                             The first Madonna painting, Madonna and Child,  39.5" by 36.75", oil on canvass. July, 2010

                                                          The House Box 

                                                                                                   July 2, 2009.  

                                                      For the first time the Burleson House Boxes are for sell on this site.

Go to The House Box


                                        A recent painting "Two Birds Espy" will be on exhibit at the Rhode Island School

                                        of Design Museum of Art  from February 19  to March 15, 2009.  The opening for 

                                         the Faculty Biennial is Thursday,  February 19,  from 6-8 pm. 


Tuesday, November 4th, 2008 by Elizabeth Leuthner

From "Our (and your) RISD"

RISD’s Chace Center is the place to be this Thursday, November 6, 2008, 7-9pm, when RISD and Threadless unveil the online tee shirt company’s first guest-curated Threadless Select Series, with the theme and artists chosen by RISD President John Maeda. After an open call for submissions and a request for suggestions by RISD alumni and students, the president assembled four professors as creatives for the project: Nancy Skolos from Graphic Design, Soojung Ham [RISD ‘92, Industrial Design] from Industrial Design, and Trent Burleson [RISD MFA ‘76, Painting] and Randy Willier, both from Illustration. All the faculty members have given a unique meaning to John Maeda’s chosen theme ofNewness. Beginning with the RISD series, Threadless now plans to have guest curators for the Select Series on an ongoing basis. The RISD Newness shirts can be purchased online at or in-store at risd|works. Sales proceeds, coupled with the artists’ and president’s generation donation of their commissions, will amount to an impressive $15,000 donation to our scholarship fund.

From Unbeige

John Maeda and RISD Staffers Team Up with Threadless Select


Proof that taking over at the Rhode Island School of Design hasn't changed his ways, John Maeda has stayed true to his cooler than cool roots and has just teamed up with Threadless, being the first guest-curator for their Select Series t-shirts. Maeda came up with a concept to base the designs off of, newness, and then chose the artists to put their pens to fabric to come up with something. The shirts were just unveiled last night at the RISD's Chace Center building and we were fortunate to get an early sneek peek before they're officially launched on Threadless' site on Monday the 10th. Here's a bit, with images of the shirts after the jump:

After an open call for submissions and a request for suggestions by RISD alumni and students via his blog, Maeda assembled four professors as creatives for the project. Nancy Skolos from Graphic Design, Soojung Ham from Industrial Design, and Trent Burlesonand Randy Willier, both from Illustration -- all incredible practitioners in their respective professional fields -- agreed to join on as artists and designers in giving a unique meaning to Maeda's chosen theme of newness.

"We're part of this amazing community of learners, doers, and mentors that pursues the art and philosophy of human expression -- and newness -- with exhausting intensity," said Maeda. "This project with Threadless has been a great opportunity to explore this timely theme together. We are amidst the election season here in the U.S., and a movement is arising driven by a palpable desire for change. Human nature and the creative spirit drive our desire for new tastes and new sensations, all of which can be synthesized into fresh perspectives and new experiences."

Images after the jump:

Trent Burleson, Illustration professor