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His artistic journey

February 19, 2011
By Cindy Votruba

Michael Burnette of Marshall proves that it's never too late to be known as a new artist.

Burnette's work is featured in the annual "Emerging Artist" exhibit at the Marshall Area Fine Arts Center. His work will be on display through April 1.

The "Emerging Artist" exhibit is for artists who are in the early stages of their career. At age 57, this is his first solo show.

"It makes me feel young," Burnette said with a chuckle. "I haven't done a whole lot of painting."

Burnette said he knew he could draw when he was a kid. He didn't take art in high school. Then in 2001, Burnette started a few art classes at Leech Lake Tribal College, starting with drawing. He graduated from there in 2004.

"(We drew) whatever the instructor told us to draw," Burnette said. "He just gave us a picture."

Burnette went on to receive his bachelor's degree in studio arts from Southwest Minnesota State University in 2006.

When Burnette started seriously painting, he would come up with his own ideas. Several reflected his Ojibwe heritage. One of the first paintings he did was of eagle feather buffalo. He said it's part of the regalia men wear on their back at a powwow.

"I didn't think it was very good though," Burnette said of the painting.

Burnette said he always wanted to do art but never got around to doing it.

"I was always inspired by other artists because I grew up in the '60s," Burnette said, noting "Cosmic '60s" artist Peter Max. "I always liked Norman Rockwell. His people look real."

After living in Minneapolis for 30 years, Burnette said he was exposed to more American Indian art and was inspired by that as well.

"I just try to convey what I know," Burnette said about the meaning of his artwork. He said he wasn't taught much about the Ojibwe culture or the language growing up. He learned mainly from his time at Leech Lake.

In the last nine years, Burnette has dedicated more of his time to painting in acrylics. Some of his paintings feature a black bear, landscapes and the lakes and rivers.

"Because there's lots of water up at Leech Lake," Burnette said.

A couple of his paintings depict eagles.

"When I was growing up, I never saw an eagle," he said.

Then after living in Minneapolis and moving back to Leech Lake for a while, Burnette said he started seeing more and more eagles.

Earlier this week, Burnette was finishing off his last painting for the exhibit that opens Tuesday. He said it is a woodland scene.

"It's got birchbark trees, thunderclouds in the background, lightning," Burnette said.

Burnette said he usually has some kind of idea in mind when he's working on a painting.

"Sometimes I add something to it," Burnette said.

People have told Burnette they like his work, he said.

"The bright, bold colors," Burnette said. He said he uses a lot of red and yellow in his paintings.

Burnette said he's always working on developing his medium.

"I have a long ways to go yet," Burnette said. "I kind of want to make it (art) what I do."



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