If you've been on the square or Fry Street in the last few years, you've seen Mick Burson's art. His large-scale work adorns the walls of several areas in town, some noticeable, some hidden. With the recent success of the Banksy movie, Exit Through the Gift Shop, public art has gone up a notch in the public eye. Denton, in general, sees it's fair share of street art. The majority of it has a pretty short half-life, though, being washed away before most people are able to even notice. Burson's work, however, is normally met with a warm welcome.
Many local business/land owners have commissioned Burson to beautify their walls with some of his local artwork. Maybe you've noticed his mural full of tiny, colorful houses on the west side wall of A Creative Art Studio at Oak and Bolivar? If not, then you've definitely seen one of his murals closer to the UNT campus. Either way, Burson's art has touched Denton in a way that most artists only dream about. With the forthcoming removal of the 35 Denton mural from the wall of Rusty Tacos, we thought it pertinent to speak to Denton's resident mural expert.
Tell us about yourself - what brought you to Denton - how long have you been here - what do you do - etc.
I moved to Denton about 3 years ago to go to UNT and I did that for about two years - and then I’ve been in Waco about the last year. I'm moving back to Denton next week and starting back in the fall to finish school. The job i'm leaving in Waco was super supportive of what I did so they were really flexible on my scheduling so I was able to take the big jobs out of town and still have something to come back to.
You have a long standing history with 35 Denton - how did that start? What all have you done with 35D? How do you think partnering with 35D has affected you?
I had known Ahuni Perez for a little while, and this year before the festival she contacted me needing someone to paint for the event. The inside of The Hive was what I did for them this year. The atmosphere the space provided was perfect, the building hadn’t been in use for some time so the smells and overall feel reflected that and thats what I’m drawn to. I ran short on time so I was only able to finish The Hive and not any other spaces this year so I owe them a wall in the future. Partnering with 35 Denton was an absolute pleasure, they know how to take care of the people they hire on for projects and I think that reflects in the organization. Special thank you to Kyle, Ashuni, and everyone who makes 35 Denton possible.
Why do you make public art?
I have always explored abandoned areas, and I think thats why I am so drawn to where I’m from because it provides an abundance of those spaces. Growing up I would explore the places and see graffiti left by others and there was something magical about the energy spent without expecting any return with just a hope that someone could appreciate it in the future. So I began writing graffiti at about 16. A couple years later I met up with some guys who helped me take it in a serious direction - and I began painting freight trains. With trains and graffiti and monikers on trains it provided an endless supply of inspiration. I no longer had to explore different areas everyday I could just go to the trainyard and the trains would constantly bring new stuff. I attended a community college at this time and one of my professors would let me skip class to paint trains as long as I showed him the work I had done. I appreciate him seeing a future in my work that I may not have seen at the time, I just wanted to paint. Eventually it all caught up to me and I got arrested for painting trains a week before my 20th birthday, and I guess thats where public art came in to save me. I still had to paint I just had to find a different way to go about it so I began painting legally for companies and different people. I think it was all just a natural transition into what it has become today. These days I make public art because its where I find my self-worth, it helps me to figure out myself and work through life issues.
What are your feelings on the permanence, or lack thereof, of public art? Do you have hopes for the staying power of your own?
I think the lack of permanence in public art is one of the beautiful things about it. It is just like a big challenge that I take upon myself to create things that last longer than my body or mind will.
Recently in Waco I was painting a wall and there was a discrepancy with the shop owner with whom the wall faced. Long story short, she talked to the guy I was painting for and he wanted to keep peace with her so he came out and said that it was no longer ok for me to paint and that they were going to cover it up. It then was no longer about the permanence of my work because i knew the future for it, it was more about being able to finish the expression I was in the middle of. I talked them into at least letting me finish, and as I was painting in the fur on the animals with a brush I realized that none of my work should ever be about permanence because it does not exist.
What inspires most of your wall art? What do you find appealing about large scale public art?
All my work is extremely narrative and usually focuses on interactions between people or animals. The interactions narrate trials and tribulation in my own life that I am facing. So what I paint is a direct reflection of how I would like myself to react in the situation. I feel by making work about whatever i'm facing and my work reflecting a positive reaction so that I will be more apt to following the suggestion I paint. I feel like it helps hold me accountable to the public on whom I want to be.
How much does the environment in which you place a piece (or even Denton in general) inspire the murals that you create?
I think the environment surrounding my work may inspire a certain color pallet for formality reasons but I try not to let it affect the content of my work. I do take into consideration other shapes and textures that will be working into the bigger view, meaning other buildings and areas that are in view when looking at one of my works and try to interact with shapes accordingly.
Do you think its important for you to have a creative community?
I love a creative community - but sometimes its not realistic for where you are at - so I make sure I do not build a dependance on a set creative community. I feel like a creative community is different from one to another so you can build your own wherever you are at. My favorite thing about school is the creative community it creates.
You’ve collaborated with other artists on some murals. Do you find that to be more exciting than working on your own?
I think the collaboration process is an important one. One of my favorites to collaborate with is Taylor Mcclure, I think naturally anyone who creates large scale work has to have a certain drive within himself so having that in common with someone else is a great rare thing thats should be exercised. I also feel like that is one of the difficulties, I try to never let my drive become my ego and that stand between me and a new idea. I also feel like one of the collaborations that happens in a very natural way is the one between Mike Carpenter and I. Mike films and edits montages of my work, we work great together not much needs to be said he does what he does, and does it very well and I do what I do. So collaborations can come in many different forms.
What kind of preparation goes into something like a large wall mural? Is there a lot of planning before you start?
It depends alot on who its for and what it will be containing. For businesses they always want to see a sketch and quite a bit of prior planning. Then there's the other side of it were I just go find a wall and talk to the business owners about me just doing my own thing on it. When there's no real guidelines as far as content there is very minimal planning. I try not to have any sketches and just react to the shape of the wall, I give myself this freedom since a lot of my work contains straight lines and requires a lot of accurate work. For me a sketchbook is one of the most important things, I fill them up constantly and then I have set shapes in my head that I lay down and then just react to those when doing a wall. As far as my color palette goes there is never any planning going into it - I just pick a few basic colors and mix them on site.
You started out as a printmaker and still do that along with your public murals. Printmaking allows you to easily create multiple pieces of work. Has a desire to get your work in front of a lot of people influenced your choice in medium?
I think printmaking has greatly influenced my work, any one of my walls could very easily be broken down and turned into a print. I work with layers - just like in printmaking - and figure out what is going to work best next, and make sure I am not cutting background shapes after doing foreground objects. I think the medium I use for walls whether it be spray paint or latex paint is influenced by what I grew up knowing and what I am use to. I try to broaden the materials I use so that in any situation work can still be made, but I also let myself figure out the new material at my own pace. I don't ever want this part of my work to turn into being about money, that would ruin the pureness and simplicity of it all.
Your style is pretty recognizable. Can you tell us about your aesthetic?
One of my mom's favorite artist is a guy named Pena and all his work is based around native americans and the southwest, so I grew up drawing the paintings she had hanging at the house. Now that I am older I can recognize the elements in my work that I have kept from his work. A lot of inspiration I take from others' work happens at a subconscious level, so I never really know whose work is really affecting my own style until later down the road. One of my favorite things about art and the cohesiveness of someone's work is that it cannot be bought, or learned over night. I have to take what I know and make work day and night about it and take care of it and figure out what direction I want it all to go. Art takes an extreme amount of work that you have to put in to reach any real level of cohesiveness that you could call your own, and thats why its a never ending process for me.