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Dennis Eugene Norman Burton: Tell Me a Story Blossom


On display in the Project Room.

The Penticton Art Gallery is pleased to present a rare early collaborative work by artist Dennis Burton and the noted children's TV writer Clifford Braggins entitled, Tell Me a Story Blossom, written by Braggins and illustrated by Burton in 1959. It is a classic children's story chronicling the tumultuous relationship between a cat named Klunk and a dog named Cecil. The gallery acquired this 41 page unpublished manuscript a number of years ago and we have been looking for an appropriate opportunity to exhibit all 41 pages for the first time in its entirety. While this exhibit provides breathing room and humor in what otherwise could be seen as a heavy and dark series of exhibitions, it does, however, also serve as a reminder of just how much we have been taught that there are differences in nature and that no matter how hard we try there will always be a conflict between a cat and a dog.

The work was created while the two friends were working for the CBC in Toronto and the finished proof was sent off to the literary agent Mr. Carlton Cole, who died shortly after receiving the unpublished manuscript in 1959. The manuscript was placed into storage in 1963 and would not be seen publicly again until May 16th, 2016.

The manuscript would resurface once again with the passing of the renowned American literary agent Rosalind Paige Cole who passed away at the age of 88 on February 20, 2014 in New York City. Over the course of her long career, Cole represented many high-profile authors, actors, artists and celebrities, including Andy Warhol, Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Jolie Gabor, Doris Lily, George Rodrigue, Charlie Chaplin, Jr., George Sanders, Irish poet and playwright Brendan Behan and astrologer Sybil Leek.

At age 22 she signed with MGM Records, which billed her as “Singing Star Rosalind Paige.” She toured the country performing in nightclubs, appeared on television, and made records. She married her manager, Carlton Cole, who was 25 years her senior. She lived for many years with her mother, literary agent Ethel Paige, in the Algonquin Hotel, before moving into the Waldorf Astoria in 1961. She lived there for 53 years, laying claim to the title of longest residing guest at the hotel. At the time of her death she owed a whopping $818,000 in debts to the hotel.

Rosalind Paige Cole never remarried and they had no children. This manuscript was found amongst her late husband’s papers which had been placed into storage in 1962 and only resurfaced in the public domain when it was offered up for auction as part of her estate sale held at Flannery’s Auction & Estate Services located in Pine Bush, New York.

 

Clifford Braggins (born 1924) enjoyed a storied career as an inspired writer, composer, pianist and playwright. He co-wrote the first CBC television broadcast, The Big Revue, and went on to create and write many shows for CBC variety and children's television: PM Party, The Juliette Show, Howdy Doody (Canadian), Razzle Dazzle, Junior Roundup, Patty's Picture House (Pictures with Woofer), Butternut Square. He was proud of his revue and sketch work, including Spring Thaw which appeared in London's West End. He also had a long and much awarded career in advertising and multi-media. He was able to merge his passion for education and entertainment in his work for the BC Government creating innovative multi-media communications. Even in retirement he continued to write, including the popular children's show Once Upon a Hamster (Hammytime) and songs for Valdy's Kid's Record.

Clifford Braggins passed away on July 6, 2013 in Surrey, British Columbia.

 

Dennis Burton was born in Lethbridge, Alberta, on December 6, 1933 and is today best known as a leading avant-garde Canadian artist and an important figure in the Abstract Expressionist movement, playing a key role in the development of contemporary art in Canada. Dennis won a scholarship to Pickering College, later attending Ontario College of Art working alongside artists Fred Hagan and Jock Macdonald who were strong influences. He graduated with honours in 1956, and later studied with Rico Lebrun at the University of Southern California (1955), and Ben Shahn at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Maine (1959).

During the 1950s Burton worked for the CBC as an animator where he created the iconic and award winning skater used for so many years to introduce Canadians to “Hockey Night in Canada. It was Ben Shahn who would encourage Dennis to "leave commercial art and paint, paint, paint”, and shortly after his return from the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture Dennis quit the CBC and directed his focus on being a full time artist.

Dennis Burton was amongst the first artists to be represented by Av Isaacs and the The Isaacs Gallery, Toronto’s premier purveyor of Avant-garde art along with artists Michael Snow, Joyce Wieland, Graham Coughtry, Nobuo Kubota, Gordon Rayner, Robert Markle Robert Hedrick, William Ronald, John Meredith, Jack Chambers, Richard Gorman, John MacGregor, many of whom were Burton’s close friends and colleagues. Viewing a Burton exhibition at the Isaacs Gallery, the Actor Charles Laughton was drawn to the originality of Burton’s abstract expressionist paintings and facilitated a number of important exhibitions of his work in California.

In the 1960s Burton began to extol the female form. He painted a series of large figurative paintings of women in undergarments between 1962-1965 which drew national attention after it roused the ire of John Diefenbaker who denounced Dennis Burton in the House of Commons, coining the term “garter belt-maniac”, and thus established Burton’s infamous reputation. From here he would go on to explore other erotic themes which complemented the work of other artists such as Michael Snow and Joyce Wieland.

Tin 1962 Burton’s love of improvisational jazz led to the formation of The Artists' Jazz Band (AJB) a pioneering Canadian free-jazz group initially composed of Toronto visual artists associated with the abstract-expressionist movement of the late 1950s. Collectively self-taught, it was formed in 1962 in a studio over the First Floor [Jazz] Club by Dennis Burton, who played saxophone, and Richard Gorman. The bands illustrious membership would included; Graham Coughtry (trombone), Nobuo Kubota, (saxophones), Robert Markle (tenor saxophone and piano), and Gordon Rayner (drums). It also included on a casual basis many other artists and musicians - including Bill Smith, Michael Snow, the bassist Jim Jones, and the guitarist Gerald McAdam - sympathetic to its adventurous style of spontaneously composed music. The AJB has generally performed in private (for many years in Rayner's downtown loft) but has given occasional concerts at universities, galleries, and clubs in Ontario and was influential in the development of free jazz in Toronto during the 1970s. Some of its infrequent performances during the 1980s were done under the name An Artists' Jazz Band.

In 1965 Burton teamed up with fellow artist Robert Hedrick to establish the New School of Art, Toronto’s first alternative post-secondary school. Here Burton’s passion for painting, coupled with his dissatisfaction with the state of art education and his dedication to contemporary art practices, lead to his development of an alternative art curriculum. In 1970 he was invited to chair the Drawing and Painting Department of the Ontario College of Art OCAD University) just before the tumult of the Roy Ascot years. Here, he created a bit of a revolution; first by bringing in all his colleagues as new faculty, adding their vitality and contemporary thought to the DRPT program, and then refusing tenure. He resigned, returning to the New School of Art as its Director (1971-1977).

Burton was an artist, educator, wordsmith, innovator and mentor to many throughout his career. It was his constant need for experimentation and risk taking which permeated his work and gained him a loyal and dedicated following. His later abstractions play with text and language in eclectic ways. Burton’s ever inquisitive mind and his creative and eccentric manner of configuring facts to fulfill his insatiable pursuit of knowledge, along with his need to communicate all of that, filled much of his waking hours and permeated his teaching, enriching the lives of his students and many of those he touched.

In 1977, Burton and artist Diane Pugen (to whom he was married for 20 years) along with colleagues Graham Coughtry, Gordon Rayner, Robert Markle, Robert Hedrick, Ross Mendes, David Bolduc, Paul Sloggett, Ken Lyewood, Zibigniew Blazeje and Joan Van Damme founded Art’s Sake Inc, The Institute for Visual Art, the first independent, alternative, totally artist run post secondary art school. In 1979 Burton joined the faculty of Emily Carr College of Art and Design in Vancouver where he would teach for the next 20 years up to his retirement.

Burton taught painting and drawing at the Ontario College of Art, and was named Director of the New School of Art. He also taught at the Banff School of Fine Arts, at the University of Lethbridge, and at the Emily Carr College of Art and Design, retiring in 1999 after 20 years of teaching. His paintings have been presented as part of major exhibitions on abstract art organized by the National Gallery of Canada, namely Toronto Painting: 1953–1965, in 1972, and The Crisis of Abstraction in Canada, the 1950s, in 1992. In 1977 the Robert McLaughlin Gallery organized a retrospective exhibition of Burton’s work that traveled across the country. His work is included in many private and public collections, including the National Gallery of Canada, Art Gallery of Ontario, Vancouver Art gallery, Southern Alberta Art Gallery in Lethbridge, the Glenbow in Calgary, The Robert Mclaughlin in Oshawa and many others across Canada and throughout United States.

Dennis Burton died in Vancouver, BC, on July 8th, 2013.