abstract AJ Burns Fern

AJ Burns – Breathing life into his work

A new artist is producing bold, dynamic works of contrast and texture with his mouth

AJ Burns painted prodigiously as a child but was “actively discouraged” by his teachers and family from taking art in high school. He swapped paint for a set square, ruler and pencil, focused on maths, and went on to study civil engineering at UCT.

After years as a successful entrepreneur in the UK and SA, he founded a vodka distillery and then Covid prohibition hit. At a loose end, AJ attended an art class with an old friend and a good 35 years after he’d laid down his brushes, he found himself “playing with acrylics” in a neighbour’s garage.

He was intrigued to see how the paint moved but there was no electricity in the garage. Without a hair dryer, heat gun or even a straw, he blew it with his mouth to see what would happen and loved the way one colour moved through another.

A year on and AJ is still literally breathing his life into his large abstract works: he lays down one paint colour, drops a second on top of it and then blows the second colour through the first, creating vibrant movement. The effect is a burst of energy, colour and texture that evoke a range of emotions.

“I love the unpredictability of it,” he enthuses. “The paint seems to come to life – it keeps moving even when I’ve finished. And the colours change during the drying process.” (This can take up to a week in winter as it’s often 3 or 4mm thick.) “It’s always exciting to go back the next day to see what’s happened to the painting.”

The challenge lies in creating forms and keeping the paint and colours clean. “I also struggle not to overwork a piece and not to aim for perfection: the imperfections are the beauty. With my engineering mindset, that’s sometimes difficult for me,” he says.

In mid-June 2021, AJ approached Red Gallery on Wale Street and asked if they’d represent him and sell some of his paintings. The gallery owner agreed on the proviso that if they didn’t sell within 30 days, AJ was to collect them. “I phoned him after a week and was politely asked not to pester them,” he laughs. On day 29 two were sold and from then on, AJ could approach other galleries.

He has sold 29 pieces since then, the largest being 1.6x1m – “any bigger than that I can’t reach” – but he’s looking into a harness solution for larger pieces!

Initially marketing his work under the pseudonym, BurningViews, he has now registered his own website and will be taking his art to a wider, international audience.

AJ is a little stunned by his success and the fulfilment he gets from the creative process. “Who knew life could be like this?” he muses. His message to young artists is: “Have faith in your own instinct and don’t change to fit what others are expecting. Then find the courage to go and show your work to gallery owners. It’s hard to put your soul out there but it’s the most important step.”

Learn more about AJ Burns and his artwork