ROCK ISLAND — Like well-known local artist Johnnie Cluney, Jon Burns has a knack for capturing the essence of a subject in his colorful portraits, while at the same time presenting a consistent, unique visual style.
Many examples of the 37-year-old Moliner's work will be on display and for sale at the DeSoto Pottery Studio, 2328 3rd Ave., as part of a new exhibit, “QC Icons & Landmarks: The Art of Jon Burns,” opening Friday, Aug. 2.
An opening reception with free snacks and drinks will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday. The exhibit will be on display through Friday, Aug. 30.
“I've been friends with Johnnie Cluney 20 years,” said Burns, a freelance artist, musician and manager of Rock Island's Ragged Records with friend Dennis Hockaday. “We both do line drawing, not a lot of shading going on. I've always kind of drawn in that style, with bright colors, similar to what Johnnie does, too.”
Burns has shown his art at several Quad-Cities galleries, including The ARTery, Bucktown, Rozz-Tox, Midcoast Gallery West, Peanut Gallery, Mode Art Gallery and Ragged Records. Burns has described some of his fine art as “drawings on top of paintings and paintings on top of drawings ... if that makes sense."
A proud Quad-Citizen, Burns said much of his work aims to archive parts of his hometown's history, including a "Signs" photograph series that documented the many handmade business signs of the area, reflecting the visual history of the Quad-Cities.
With this current show, which features artworks done over the last two months, he set out to reflect some of the most iconic figures in Quad-Cities history of the past 50 years.
The “Icons” series originally was planned as a mural to replace the dilapidated one designed by artist Loren Shaw-Hellige on a building across the street from the Rock Island Public Library. It contains depictions of Confederate Army leaders Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee.
Burns' new series is an exploration of a more modern group of influential people with Quad-Cities origins — including athletes Madison Keys and Chasson Randle; musicians Margo Price, Lissie and Jesse Johnson; actors Eric Christian Olsen, Ken Berry and Lara Flynn Boyle; and many more. One icon whom he was not familiar with was Lisa De Leeuw, a Moline native who became a prolific adult-film star.
The exhibit at the DeSoto Pottery Studio includes close to 30 individual framed portraits, each 12 inches by 12 inches, and a mural collage of 27, in three rows of nine each. They're done in a mix of ink, acrylic, watercolor and some marker, Burns said.
At the exhibit, coloring books depicting black-and-white versions of the icons will be offfered for sale. One-quarter of all proceeds from the "QC Icons" series will be donated to Family Resources, a local social-services nonprofit group.
Burns did a similar series of famous women in music in spring 2018. He put 20 of them in a coloring book sold on Record Store Day in April 2018 at Davenport's Ragged Records. He donated 25% of the proceeds to a rock-music camp for girls in Iowa City.
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He's starting on another larger series of works depicting iconic landmarks in the Quad-Cities, and three of them will be included in this exhibit — the former Moline train depot on River Drive, the Interstate 74 bridge and the 19th-century Rock Island County Courthouse.
Burns said he wanted to document these important buildings and structures before they were demolished. The train depot already is gone, and work on a new bridge to replace the I-74 bridge is underway.
The fate of the courthouse, built in 1895-97, remains in limbo. A lawsuit filed by Landmarks Illinois and other plaintiffs against the county and the Public Building Commission to stop planned demolition was dismissed by a Peoria County Circuit Judge, but a temporary restraining order remains in effect while the case awaits an appeal hearing in the Third District Appellate Court.
“I see the points on both sides,” Burns said of demolition versus preservation/renovation. “It's a cool building; I understand the idea of preserving stuff. But you can't save 'em all. I'm probably on more on the side of preserving it. Ultimately, they're going to do what they're going to do.”
Burns' DeSoto show also will feature selected portraits from the his “Portraits for Choice” series. People pay $20 for a digital portrait, and he donates all proceeds to the Missouri chapter of NARAL, a pro-choice organization.
“There have been pretty dire things going on in a state that borders us,” he said of Missouri, where there's just one clinic that provides abortions in the entire state.
Attorneys for the state and Planned Parenthood continue their battle over an investigation into the lone abortion clinic. Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft has blocked petitions to overturn a new law banning abortion at eight weeks of pregnancy, prompting more lawsuits.
“It's more a human-rights issue, women's rights,” Burns said. “People get too clouded by abortion. Clinics provide a lot of other services for women. For me, it's a basic rights issue. ... Personally, I'm pro-choice for sure. Rather than just make a post on Facebook, I'm trying to raise money and raise awareness.”
The “Portraits for Choice” is a black-and-white panel installation at the gallery, where guests at opening and closing receptions will be encouraged to use markers, crayons, and colored pencils to color in portions of the portraits.
Burns said more women than men had requested these portraits. He plans to sell coloring books for $15 and individual “QC Icons” portraits for $25.