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There’s no better medium than illustrating graphic novels to fine-tune your drawing skills, as Keith Burns has proved.
From the packed pages of comics, the challenge of a single canvas has been brilliantly embraced by this Irish master. As a result of his comic background, Burns’ paintings have a powerful tension.
This was demonstrated at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, where he captivated visitors by producing a new composition featuring Ray Hanna’s legendary low-level 1998 Revival pitlane flypast in a Spitfire.
Burns enjoys painting live at events with High Revs and the Aces High Gallery.
Burns was born in Dublin and grew up with the aroma of oil paints because his father, a typesetter for The Irish Times, was a hobby artist who had a talent for horses but not figures.
When Burns was 14 his family moved to the Isle of Man, where he witnessed the TT races. “I’d always drawn, ever since I was a boy, but the Fine Art route at Birmingham was disillusioning after a tutor told me I couldn’t paint,” recalls Burns.
“I left art school, but it turned out to be a good thing because it meant I tried harder to prove him wrong.”
As well as building model kits, comic books were an early passion for Burns.
“The work of illustrators such as Kev Walker and Simon Bisley blew me away,” he explains. “A friend told me about a workshop with John McCrea and that set me off doing bits of weird illustration, but mostly for free.
“After several random jobs my partner and I saved enough to travel around the world. Just as we started out on a coast-to-coast road trip from LA, I got a call from friends in Hong Kong asking if I was interested in doing a comic.
“After our travel finished I ended up spending a year illustrating comic books in Hong Kong.”
The project really kick-started Burns’ career, including an exciting project with McRea titled The Boys.
“Initially I did the backgrounds and vehicles as well as the inking up, but it was an amazing education for capturing expressions and movement,” says Burns. “It really taught me the art of storytelling.”
The success of The Boys resulted in the Ex-Con, Johnny Red and Out of the Blue comic series: “Drawing 1980s Los Angeles for Ex-Con gave me a chance to include a Lamborghini Countach and all my favourite American trucks, which I was obsessed with as a kid.”
The reaction to his comic books eventually led to Burns branching out to painting commissions, both aviation and automotive.
“One of my heroes is Michael Turner,” he explains. “I couldn’t believe it when he presented me with Painting of the Year at the 2016 Guild of Aviation Artists exhibition.”
Burns’ versatility with subjects recently led to a commission from the Jersey Post Office, for a series of stamps celebrating the history of Formula One, and that in turn has evolved into a book project with journalist Joe Saward.
“I’ve always loved motorsport,” enthuses Burns. “My GCSE painting featured GT40s and I’d love to do a comic on Le Mans in the 1960s.”