Rhonda C.R. Burton, born in Indianapolis, Indiana grew up in Los Angeles. Mostly self-taught, she took classes and learned to paint at The Brentwood Art Center in Los Angeles and soon began teaching watercolor painting there for several years. She was accepted into The National Watercolor Society and several other art organizations. As a painter and teacher of watercolor, her primary subject matter was mostly floral still life. Several years later as a divorced mother of 2 young children, she had to put her art career on hold and began working in the corporate world.
After several decades she was finally able to make her way back to art but this time through photography. In her current works, her subject matter has returned to the comfort of the garden, as it reminded her of the years she spent helping her grandfather in the garden as a child. The photographic images she took of flowers and succulents were printed on acrylic sheets and backed with brushed aluminum. This gave the work a very sleek and contemporary look. She began to show her work again with local art groups and has been represented by a gallery in Ojai, California.
Her imagery continues to revolve around the beauty of the garden, with the focus of color, repetition of pattern and texture taking center stage. Missing the direct connection to the paper, she now prints her photographs on archival fine art paper and hand embellishes with color pencil, providing a more painterly effect. By adding various sizes of the same image set at different angles or by adding collage she attempts to reflect the growth patterns of the plant in an abstract way.
Tell us about your artwork, medium, style, subject matter etc.
Rhonda: Within the past several years, my subject matter has remained the same but I have presented my art in two very different mediums. When I began to photograph plants, I wanted the juxtaposition of the organic shapes of flowers and succulents to something slick and modern. Currently, I work with a printer that prints my images on acrylic and then backed them with brushed aluminum. This gives my work the sleek, contemporary look I like.
As I began to feel the need to be more interactive with my art, I decided to have my images printed on a fine art archival paper. I then enhanced the image with color pencil. I wanted to embellish and intensify the colors of the petals and leaves. I create several presentations of my work. In one of kind pieces, I mount the embellished work on a painted wooden panel under a sheet of acrylic. There are some images that I feel need to be expanded upon further. With those pieces I print various sizes of the same image and mount them at different angles, trying to reflect the growth pattern of the plant. My images are also offered as individual prints of flowers and succulents that I have embellished as well.
What does a typical day look like for you? Do you have a specific routine or process?
Rhonda: My daily routine has changed a little as we are now living in the midst of a pandemic. But for the last several years I walk 3-4 miles each day with my dog. During these walks I often find inspiration from the flowers, succulents that I find around me. After walking, I do a few errands if necessary and then spend the remainder of day working on my art and going through the photos I’ve taken that day. I am usually working on several different pieces at the same time; it helps me keep my focus.
What do you think Floral Art does for a plant that other art renderings don’t or can’t do?
Rhonda: To me floral art, whether a photograph; a drawing, or painting is alive and vibrant versus a botanical rendering. I see emotion and volume versus the static, flat lines of a drawing. I look for the lighting, shadows, and growth patterns of the plant. These are small things but they create excitement to me that renderings don’t often have.
When you were a child, what was your dream job? Have you thought about that when you were playing in your grandfather’s garden?
Rhonda: As a child, I wasn’t certain what my dream job would be, but I always knew it revolved around art and being creative. For many years I worked in the jewelry industry and one day I walked into a small private art school and I knew this is where I needed to be. I took life drawing and watercolor classes there. I was soon teaching watercolor painting at the school and began to exhibit my work. But it wasn’t until many years later I made the connection of focusing my art on flowers, to the time I spent gardening with my grandfather as a child.
I had to put my art career on hold to support my young children as a single parent, working in the corporate world. After many years I was able to find my way back to creating art again but this time through photography. And the subject matter that I felt the most comfortable with was the garden.
How has your art evolved over the years?
Rhonda: When I first began working in watercolor, I painted still life of flowers. I did a number of these pieces, one day I came across a bag of scrap kimono fabrics in a store. I was so intrigued by the Japanese aesthetic and began using the fabrics in all my paintings. Soon the fabrics became the predominant force of my work. I was so enthralled by the images of birds and flowers in the fabric that the more I painted them, the more abstract my work had become. A painting in this abstract style was accepted into the National Watercolor Society. I was also accepted to several other organizations and began showing my work nationwide.
As a working single parent I needed to find a way to de-stress and I found that walking in my neighborhood cleared my head and helped reduced the stress and tension. As I walked, I began to take pictures of the gardens around me and this stirred my need to be creative again. Using those images I then established a line of stationery, fabrics, I made small pouches and folding fans, which I continue to sell on Etsy. That didn’t completely fulfill my artistic desire; I wanted to create fine art again. This is when I became to have my images printed on acrylic and aluminum which then morphed into my current works on paper.
What artists influenced you the most and why?
Rhonda: I absolutely love the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, his watercolors influenced my early watercolors. He was a major participant in the Art Nouveau movement and his paintings of flowers and pitchers influenced my style. And I loved his sense of design and the way he laid down color in his architectural paintings.
Mark Rothko was an influence on me as well. In 1979 the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) had a retrospective of his work. I saw the show 3 times and spent hours in the museum just looking at his work. I was so moved; to see the softness of his edges and his layering and depth of colors. His work is so powerful.
While centuries of artists have painted flowers, the work of Georgia O’Keeffe has had a large impact on me. The cropping of her work, certainly influenced by her photographer husband, I found so compelling. I wanted to emulate her view of flowers but also wanted to take it a step further by going deeper into the center of the flower.
What is the message you are trying to give with your art?
Rhonda: In normal times our world can be chaotic, frantic, and stressful but in pandemic times, even more so. By creating art we are able to reach more people than we could ever know. I often think that if I found comfort from the beauty of the garden, maybe others would as well. If through my work someone can feel a bit of calm and joy, then I am thrilled.
What memorable responses have you had to your work?
Rhonda: Well certainly it is the very best thing when someone falls in love with your work and feels they just must own it. I think it is always memorable when someone says; they just had to have my work, and that it makes them feel so happy. What could be better than that?
What is the best way to reach people that are interested in your art?
Rhonda: Instagram has been a wonderful resource for me. I can always be reached via Direct Messaging (DM) on Instagram @kentwood524designs. I can also be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org My Etsy shop is open at www.etsy.com/kentwood524designs
Are there any upcoming shows or workshops we should know about (or canceled due to the Covid-19 situation)?
Rhonda: I think the pandemic has thrown a wrench into everything and especially the art world. The Brittany Davis Gallery in Ojai, California that has represented me for the past 18 months or so is currently in the process of relocating and restructuring. So, in the meantime, I am working diligently on my current body of work to present online.
Do you see your art as serving a purpose beyond art?
Rhonda: There have been many studies done showing that being in a garden or out in nature has great restorative powers. Plants seem to help our health and well being and just spending a short time outdoors seem to have a healing effect. It would be wonderful to have my art viewed as something that creates a sense of well-being and calm.
What’s next for you?
Rhonda: Currently I am looking to expand my portfolio of work. I am always open to new opportunities and to expand my exposure.
Thank you, Rhonda!