Robert Xavier Burden is a remarkable Canadian painter based in North Park, best known for his meticulous dedication to his craft. His large-scale, labor-intensive oil paintings can take up to 2,000 hours or even three years to complete, embodying a passion and commitment unparalleled in the world of art.
Growing up in Toronto, Burden's childhood was marked by a love for toys and drawing. As a young boy, he envisioned a career in animation, but the shift from hand-drawn to computer animation altered his path. He eventually pursued art history, obtaining an undergraduate degree from Queen’s University in Ontario. Further nurturing his love for art, he moved to San Francisco, earning a Master's in Fine Arts from the San Francisco Art Institute, where he later became a faculty member.
Initially, after graduation, Burden created both figurative and abstract artworks. However, the breakthrough in his artistic journey came when he rediscovered a box of his childhood toys. Struck by the juxtaposition of the toys' sacredness in his childhood memories and their apparent cheapness now, he found inspiration. This led to the birth of his series “Relics,” starting with a 9-foot-wide painting named “Mattel’s Battle Cat,” which juxtaposed a plastic toy tiger against a French Renaissance-style backdrop.
Relics: An Artistic Odyssey
For over 17 years, Burden has been engaged with the "Relics" series, focusing on glorifying cheap, mass-produced plastic toys and collectibles. These detailed paintings depict toys against old-world backgrounds, ranging from illuminated prayer books and Gothic stained glass windows to Eastern mandalas. The intricate process begins with Burden collecting toys, which sometimes takes up to three years, ensuring they are portrayed under the same light and in three dimensions.
In Spring 2023, the Oceanside Museum of Art exhibited 33 of Burden's “Relics” paintings, a culmination of approximately 22,000 hours of work. This solo exhibition marked a significant milestone in his career. Among these artworks, "The Alien Painting" stood out, with Burden live-painting this 12-by-8-foot canvas, showcasing 180 space alien toys, including iconic characters like Superman and E.T.
Recognition and Future Endeavors
Although his journey was marked by struggles, Burden's artistry has garnered appreciation globally. His meticulous and passion-driven approach has won him affluent collectors, with some artworks fetching more than $100,000. Despite the commercial success, Burden views the museum showings as a platform for enhancing cultural dialogue, not merely as a sale.
With an unwavering spirit, Burden envisions another 25 years of painting for the “Relics” series, ensuring that generations witness the glorious amalgamation of childhood memories and art.
Robert Xavier Burden's journey is one of passion, dedication, and an enduring love for art. Through his paintings, he offers viewers a trip down memory lane, encapsulating the essence of childhood wonder and imagination. His artwork, beyond its aesthetic appeal, poses questions about materialism, globalization, and our innate human tendencies, making him not just an artist but a philosopher of his times.