A World of Unique Character and Natural Beauty

Stories Behind the Portraits

October 1, 2012      Author : Jeffrey Burke    Category: Art      0 Comment(s)

Maine island artist Jeffrey Burke, 68, paints striking portraits in oil. Many of his subjects are his island neighbors. Others visit him on Isle au Haut for the pleasure of being painted, where they also can explore the island while living at a Lighthouse Keeper’s home. Here Burke talks about what inspires him “to hang onto the brush”, and features a few of the people he has painted. Maine Island Living

What Inspires Me to Paint
My moment with the sitter centers on wondering. Who is this person anyway? What matters here? How did they end up on one side of the easel and me on the other? In spite of my compulsive questioning, the beauty, the heart, the seeing of the painting arrives on its own accord, ultimately drifting into my studio unbidden by me or my foolish intentions. The inspiration for the inspiration is the inspiration: all I do is hang onto the brush.

Here are some of the folks with whom I’ve shared this experience . . .

Lonnie C. at the Easel © Jeffrey Burke 2012

At the Easel
Sobriety alone hadn’t been enough to save Lonnie C’s marriage. Old resentments, life-long habits, his edgy temper; they all conspired to drive Tess farther from his door. When he arrived here to spend a week painting with me at the lighthouse, he extruded her smudgy photograph from his wallet and pinned it on the easel beside a barren canvas. His brushes explored and dabbled at that surface for seven straight days, strokes of paint revealing achy memories, buried truths, epiphanies about his turbulent history with Tess. At the end of the week I dropped him off at the mailboat landing with the still-wet portrait cradled in his arms. When he landed in Stonington the first thing he did was call her.

Lisa Knitting © Jeffrey Burke 2012

Lisa Knitting
She knits snuggly little outfits for baby showers, scarves and hand bags and wooly tam-o-shanters, blankets and quilts and sweaters for birthdays and fundraisers, to help pay for Flo’s chemo treatments, to rebuild Clive’s burned-out house. There she is now, curled up in the corner of the mailboat knitting, a scarf as radiant as a rainbow spilling from her lap, pooling on the floor around her. Over there, see her stationed on the bench in front of the schoolhouse, watching over her students at recess, her needles lit with sea-kissed light, her hands whirling through yarn as fast as propellers. And back there, there she is again, in her usual place in the last row of folding metal chairs at the Town Meeting, tacking together an auction quilt to pay for Davy’s casket. Everywhere she goes her needles tirelessly flicker, knit and purl, skein after skein, earth tones and mauves, warm tones and cool, sweaters and comforters, mittens and caps.

Portrait of Ian White © Jeffrey Burke 2012

Portrait of Ian
Ian was the first of Ed and Ellie’s four children, all raised on a rotting mast-less schooner moored in the Isle Au Haut Thorofare. He never went to school. Ellie taught him to read and draw and cobble together meals from the sea and the mossy woods and knobby fields. From Ed he learned how to stand in the stern of the peapod and propel her ashore with a single oar swishing like a fish’s tail without ever breaking the water’s surface, how to take a worn out junker and make it run again. Now, all these years later, that old schooner lays sunk in the harbor, waterlogged, filled with muck and sea worms. Its legacy still lives, though: you can sense it down at the town landing where you’ll find Ian coaxing an old diesel engine back to life, or over on Head Harbor easing new sills under a listing fisherman’s shack. Some things can last forever.

Judith © Jeffrey Burke 2012

We’ve been together for fifty years.

Trying to Paint Alison © Jeffrey Burke 2012

Trying to Paint Alison
I’ve tried for two decades to paint Alison’s portrait. She first appeared at our lighthouse inn at the age of fifteen, wandering out of the woods to ask for a summer job. She washed dishes that first year and I produced a poor painting of her posed with her slide trombone. Ten more summers with us followed: she waited tables, cut up salad greens, changed sheets and swabbed johns. Each new season I attempted to paint her again, one time incinerating a pile of books with a blow torch, another year emerging from dark shadows in a broad brimmed black hat, or seated serenely with an artist’s manikin peering over her shoulder. My studio’s now filled with failed paintings of Alison. But even now when she returns each spring I’ll try again to paint her, but all my attempts still end up lacking. Is it my absence of talent? Does she not sit still? Are the little grays in the corners of her mouth incapable of being mixed on my pallet? Or is something else the matter? Maybe she’s simply too elusive to ever be captured in paint.

Jeffery with Reunion © Jeffrey Burke 2012

With Judith, his wife of over fifty years, Jeffrey Burke lives on Isle au Haut, Maine and spends winter months in Arizona. Burke's oil paintings are on exhibit in Damariscotta's Savory Maine Dining and Provision’s dining room from October 2nd through November 13th. A reception with Jeff will be held on Friday, October 12th from 3-5 PM.

Ben McDonald

View more of Jeffrey Burke's work at Maine Island Living Gallery

Subscribe to Maine Island Living at right--new posts will be sent to your inbox.


There are no comments yet!


80 − = 77

Pin It on Pinterest