Edward Burra (1905-1976)
Born in Rye to family that was relatively financially comfortable, Edward Burra was unfortunate to have been born with crippling rheumatoid arthritis as well as a congenital disease which caused anaemia and therefore tiredness. Despite his poor health Burra went on to exploit his artistic potential to great acclaim although he himself may not have seen it like that. He was indifferent to his painting success although the act of painting for him was a life changing experience which took him to places he would not have reach. He did a poignant drawing at the age of about 17 years of age through a grilled glass window with a figure on this side of the window and children playing on the other side, a position that reflected the view of his own life. He sought out the darker seedier side of life, although for a brief period during a visit to the United States his work was more joyful and fun. He also visited Spain and at first enjoyed the freedom but then came the Franco/Prussian war and his paintings take on a more melancholic menacing tone, with hints that similar events might happen in his home country. Prophetically, this happened of course with the start of the second World War. His use of colour is reminiscent of Max Ernst 1891‑1976 as well as his stylized depiction of things, and through him the work of Dorothea Tanning(1910‑2012), Ernst's fourth wife, who had the same preoccupation with unsettling subject matter. The floor tile and wall designs in Burra's work is similar to the elements in Fernand Léger(1881‑1955) paintings which are rectilinear designs influenced by cubism. The influence surrealism, therefore as well as cubism is clear in Burra's paintings. His human figures are painted flat reminiscent of the style of Sir Stanley Spencer 1891‑1959. However the Burra figures display insight into the human condition in a more captivating way, through sheer expression, body and hand movement. Most of Burra's work is in watercolour because he found it difficult to use a heavier brush and medium with his arthritic hands. One is reminded of Monet who eventually had to strap a brush to his wrist in order to paint. It is clear that the introduction of collage during the 20th Century also influenced Burra's work and this method of working may have realized the use of disconnected shapes forming a coherent picture, although Burra did use pencil line drawing attached to his cutouts.