Have you ever had one of those truly incredible strokes of complete coincidence? I did with Burra. I’d never heard of the guy. Then, back in the seventies, I was browsing in a book shop and pulled out this art book from among this big stack. I started glancing through and was immediately taken with these fabulous stylised paintings of Harlem in the thirties. The paintings were incredible – the colours, the images – very original. It was almost Picasso-like, almost surreal. I hadn’t seen anything quite like it. So I bought the book.
That night I put the telly on and lo and behold (there were only 3 channels back then – I don’t think Channel 4 had been invented) on BBC 2 was a documentary about Edward Burra which I watched with great enthusiasm. It was brilliant. At the end of the programme it mentioned that he had an exhibition at the Tate which I went to the very next day.
How amazing was that?
If I hadn’t have pulled that book out from that heap I’d have never known about him. In the space of two days I had discovered him, bought a book, watched a documentary and visited an exhibition. I’ve never seen anything more about him again. But I reckon he was a really important artist in the development of modern art.
Check him out: