Dennis Eugene Norman Burton
1933 - 2013
Canadian modernist Dennis Burton was born in Lethbridge, Ontario, and was best known for his Garterbeltmania series of erotic paintings. He attended the Ontario College of Art from 1952 to 1956, and worked for CBC as a graphic designer until 1960.
An exhibition in 1955 of Painters Eleven at Toronto’s Hart House inspired him to paint abstracts. He was also influenced by American Abstract Expressionist artists such as Robert Motherwell, Jack Twarkov and Willem de Kooning. In the late 1950s and early 1960s he produced sculpture by welding scrap metal and found materials together.
Burton’s interest in erotic art began as early as 1957, and works such as Smokeshop Sex Marauder and The Game of Life from 1960 were precursors of the further development of this theme in 1964 to 1965. On a trip to New York in 1961 he acquired a manual of sexual anatomy, and he had seen explicit “skin books,” bought by artist Gordon Rayner. By the mid-1960s he was working on the Garterbeltmania series, provocative erotic paintings of women in underwear, painted in a simplified graphic style similar to Pop Art. This work, which brought him national recognition, provoked polarized responses.
Burton showed with Isaacs Gallery in Toronto, and was one of the youngest members in the Isaacs stable. He played saxophone in the Artist’s Jazz Band in Toronto, a pioneering Canadian free-jazz group formed in 1962 by Toronto visual artists associated with the Abstract Expressionist movement and loosely affiliated with the Isaacs Gallery.
From 1970 to 1971 he returned to abstraction, working on a calligraphic series of paintings of black and white shapes that showed his affinity with Motherwell. In the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, Burton explored mixed media painting, text-based works, and large-scale, bold abstracts.
Burton was the co-founder of Toronto’s New School of Art in 1965, and he was its director from 1971 to 1977. He also taught at the Ontario College of Art and Design (1970), Banff School of Fine Arts (1974), University of Lethbridge (1975), Art’s Sake, Toronto (co-founder, 1977) and Emily Carr University, Vancouver (1980 to 1991).
His work is in the collections of the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, the Glenbow Museum, Calgary, Los Angeles County Museum, Smithsonian Institute, Washington, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, and the Vancouver Art Gallery, among others.