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The David Burton Story
Hampstead’s leading exponent of pavement art, at work in Swiss Cottage—to attract attention, David Burton must be topical. He is now, below, drawing a Japanese ship under fire.
THERE is no need to defend the work of David Burton. Child Art and every form of Primitivism have been so much in vogue in recent years that it is rather the more sophisticated output of an adult mind that need justification. Perhaps it is a sign of the times. It may mean that our civilisation feels overburdened with the responsibilities that come with age and knowledge. The load must be shaken off. And you can do it, as in Germany, by a return to savagery, or else, on a spiritual plane, by taking an unashamed delight in literary and artistic primitivism.
But that is a matter for historians of the future. What concerns us here is the fact that David Burton’s work seems good to look at. It’s good fun. It is exuberant and joyous like the work of Rubens, who would paint you the martyrdom of a saint having his tongue torn out by a pair of red-hot tongs, and all you feel is a bouncing joy at the gay crimson of the glowing steel. You get the same sensation from a “Burton.”
His “Horrors of War,” or “Horrible Japanese Atrocities,” flaunting a wholesome, primeval gaudiness, witness to the infinite fun of this life, no less than his sporting events and royal weddings.
Not that David Burton has more reason than most of us to feel pleased with the world. Some 20 years ago, in the days of the great slump, he lost his job on the railways, to walk the streets as one of Britain’s million unemployed. A fellow-waif, seeing him draw, suggested pavement-art as a source of income and Burton, after some fears and hesitations, took it up.
He chose a pitch in Finchley Road, North West London, and now, at the age of 60, averages as much as 10 shillings on a sunny day. He is in fact earning his living as a professional artist. Which is a good deal more than you can say about most of our masters.
It would be wrong to suppose that Mr Burton has attained his present skill without effort. He had drawn continuously in his boyhood, and it was not until the age of 30 that he could paint a horse to satisfy his father, who was the driver of a hansom cab. Even now, his aeroplanes draw heavy criticism from little boys in Finchley Road. But it is safe to say that he has won his recognition. His latest one-man-show, given by the Artists International Association at the Charlotte Street Centre, was only the last of over half-a-dozen similar exhibitions. And he has a wide circle of permanent admirers, which includes busmen, artists, news-vendors and critics.
PHOTO ABOVE: The self-taught cockney artist looks after his one-man-show at the Charlotte Street Centre, Bloomsbury. The war, the life of London, the tales and superstitions of old England, all are interpreted along these walls. Robin Hood hobnobs with AA Gunners, Dick Whittington with Cossack horsemen. This is genuine folk-art, like the ballad sheets that used to be sold in the streets of London.
Originally published in THE PICTURE POST magazine (3rd February 1945)
Photos by K Hutton
Researched and edited by Philip Battle
Today, original paintings by David Burton can fetch anything between £600 and £3000 at auction!
For more information on the life of David Burton, you can read my research blog from November 2011 – The lady and the tramp (1883-1945)