News : 2010

"Visual Arts Preview - Isla Burns: Wrought Iron"
Janice Ryan, Edmonton Journal

Visual arts preview: Isla Burns: Wrought Iron



Where: Peter Robertson Gallery, 12304 Jasper Ave.

When: April 17 - May 12, 2010

- - -

With her mastery of steel, Isla Burns breathes life and soul into a material renowned for its brute strength, rigidity and permanence. Her latest body of work, Wrought Iron, conveys a softness and fluidity, an airiness intrinsic in the robust weight of the steel. Delicate foliage, smooth bananas and the feathered wings of a bird demonstrate her command of this medium, bonding the viewer to her graceful pieces.

The moment Burns enrolled in a welding course, "the love affair began." After 14 years as an industrial welder and 30 years as an artist, her passion for steel sculpture remains very much alive.

In 2002, Burns was given an Award of Excellence by the Alberta College of Art and Design and was accepted into The Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (RCA). She shares her home-studio in Mulhurst Bay, southwest of Edmonton, with husband and artist, Phil Darrah, while an assortment of goats, a goose, dog and cat, patrol the property. The Journal chatted with Isla about her new show opening Saturday.

How has being born in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) and raised in several Indian cities influenced your work?

India was where I spent my formative years. That architecture, those colours, the art and the sculpture are some of my clearest and deepest memories. I revisited India some years ago and it reassured me where my sense of form and esthetic came from.

Why has steel held your interest for 30 years?

Working as a welder in industry gave me an appreciation for the material and a respect and love for the many faces of steel -- hard and industrial, soft and malleable. It can be joined to other metals, carved, laminated, bent and formed. The only thing I don't like about steel is that it rusts.

Your style has evolved from the earlier found object sculptures to something more organic. What sparked the shift?

I got sick and tired of modernist thinking or collage in the "Grand Manner." I wanted more stuff in the pieces. I wanted them to be personal and felt. Moving into forged steel was a natural progression. Steel is not all about I-beams and manufactured pipes. I realized that it could be turned into all sorts of shapes with enough heat and effort. The shift coincided with Phil and me moving to Mulhurst Bay and being exposed to the great outdoors.

What are the physical challenges of hand-forging?

My air hammer does all of the heavy bashing. I do the forming and shaping on the anvil. Over time, I have trained myself to work long hours physically. As I get older I find, to quote Leonard Cohen, "I'm aching in the places where I used to play."

Your pieces, quite literally, wear your sweat. Can you imagine making art any other way?

I like being involved physically. It is earthy and dirty and sometimes bloody and I like it that way. All that energy is transferred into the sculpture and I believe some of that emanates from the piece.

Khatmandu is bursting with hand-forged petals ... do you ever keep track of your hours?

I don't think about time when I'm working, but other people seem to be curious about it. I know people who spend longer in front of a television set or computer. I prefer to spend my time making sculpture.

What do you like the least about being an artist?

I dislike a lot of the BS associated with art. The pages of twaddle in the art magazines and the words you can't find in the dictionary and the feeling that you are reliving the story of The Emperor's New Clothes.

Can you imagine any other life than being an artist?

Making art is like breathing. I cannot live without it. It's what makes me get out of bed; it's what gives meaning to my existence.