By Susan Kohl
Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor made his love for power tools well known in the ABC television sitcom “Home Improvement.” It was a strange kind of love, but understood by men everywhere. The same holds true for the love of tools of another kind – backhoes, loaders, dump trucks and hard hats. Veteran fine arts painter Brad Burns captures these images through construction art that hangs in construction office lobbies around the world.
Burns began his career as a professional art director, working on advertising, marketing collateral, high-tech packaging, branding and other creative communications tools for Silicon Valley companies. It was challenging but often dull, focusing on hard-to-depict products like enterprise software and telecommunications hardware.
In 2000, his artistic direction changed dramatically. He was commissioned to create paintings that would serve as magazine covers for The Engineering & Utility Contractors Association (EUCA), a trade association representing union-affiliated contractor businesses and associate firms throughout the western United States. His focus would turn from software to scissor lifts.
Shortly after, the president and CEO of Preston Pipelines asked Burns to work with his interior design firm to develop a series of large canvas paintings that would depict the company’s expertise and experience. It would provide a “unified palette” in a newly-constructed, 33,000-sq.-ft. corporate headquarters.
Since that first series, Burns has created 20 paintings that hang in Preston’s conference rooms, bid rooms and hallways. The paintings have been well received by local art critics as well as the press.
Today, his construction art portfolio includes more than 300 paintings, which can be found in office installations throughout the United States and abroad. He has created what he calls the largest fine art resource for construction-related art in the world.
“I get my inspiration from construction workers themselves,” said Burns. “They are generally excited about what they do, and boy, do they love big, powerful, earth-shaking machines!”
A handful of the paintings he has created are based on visual concepts, such as the painting “Trilogy,” commissioned by North Bay Construction, Petaluma, Calif. Company CEO Steve Genay wanted to show the three basic phases of a large job, in this case for a mall being constructed from the ground up. Another patron, CC Meyers, a construction firm that specializes in bridges and overpasses, wanted to start with an aerial photo of an overpass but asked Burns to use creative license to make it a bit more abstract. The result was a stunning painting that begs the question, “Is it a colorful exaggeration or an actual structure?”
Burns’ portfolio includes commissioned paintings for Ghilotti construction, one of Northern California’s largest and oldest construction companies. Overaa Construction commissioned him to paint several pieces for its 100th anniversary. Iron planet, the world’s largest online auction house for heavy equipment, commissioned 36 paintings for its offices worldwide and also a series of calendars to distribute to their clients. The paintings include not only heavy construction equipment, but also agricultural heavy equipment and personal vehicles.
Ultimately, he says his goal is to communicate the strength and fortitude of the people who dedicate their lives to the building of planned developments, highways and bridges. He feels he knows them, and that his art understands them.