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Camden New Journal - One Week with JOHN GULLIVER
Published: 1 March 2007
Rosy Burman
Burman’s dark materials

HAVE you ever wondered what celebrities and politicians are really thinking as they flash their big smiles at you in the press?
And when we appear in family or office party snaps don’t so many of us end up with similar wide-opened smiles bordering on something maniacal.
It’s the mask we wear that covers up – what? Often, nothing much more complicated than simple self-consciousness.
But that explanation would never have satisfied Barry Burman, an extraordinary artist whose disturbing paintings capture the buried, tortured inner life of the sub-conscious that some might think it would be better to leave untouched.
When I first entered Gallery 12 in Hampstead on Sunday afternoon I was plunged into a macabre setting full of foreboding – dark, menacing picture after picture, all the more menacing because of the wonderful, detailed workmanship.
Faces in pain, figures of devils, a face with a wide, gaping mouth, fixed open by jutting, powerful teeth.
At first, you back away. Then, adjusting slowly to the themes, you realise Burman is drawing you into an inner-world that can tell you much about the human condition.
Talking to Burman’s wife Rosy and friends who had studied with him at Coventry Art College in the 1970s, it was clear that behind his nice, friendly exterior beat a soul in pain, so much so that he became a manic depressive, finally taking an overdose six years ago at the age of 51.
Some artists bow to fashion but Burman would not compromise his great talent. For nearly 20 years after leaving art college, singled out as a brilliant talent, he ploughed his own course. Shunned by the art world he eked out a living teaching art part-time.
“We never went on holiday, maybe once or twice for three days,” his wife Rosy told me at the opening of Burman’s first one-man show in London. “He was either starting a painting, in the middle of one, finishing one or thinking of the next – it took up all his life. Everyday he’d go up to his studio at 9am and not come down until 6pm. Once the muse got him, his life was taken over.”
Among the paintings that illuminate what Burman himself called his ‘horror alley’, a murderer in a shabby room, a face in excruciating pain torn by syphilis, there are surprises – a monument to the victims of the English Civil War, a canvas filled with large, gaping, grinning mouths, a savage satire on patriotism during the Falklands War.
Pure to the end, Burman was eventually discovered in his early 40s and is now sought after by collectors some of whom filled the gallery in South Hill Park.
In today’s society when people are much more open about their inner selves, I can imagine an artist like Burman may catch on more than he has. Public figures like the biologist Lewis Wolpert and the writer Al Alvarez, both of whom live in Hampstead, have helped to drag out the depressed mind from the closet, writing extensively on their own lives.
Burman goes to those dark corners we fear to tread but visitors to Gallery 12 may find a visit worth taking.

Champagne flowed when DSG met HM

THE Queen may not read the New Journal but she heard all about this great organ from our veteran court reporter, David St George, when they met at the Old Bailey on Tuesday.
As they shook hands in the Grand Hall during an evening bash to celebrate the court’s centenary, our colleague, known as DSG, was ‘presented’ as “David St George Senior Resident, Member of the Press”.
During a brief chat, DSG told me, he reminded the Queen that it was a “long while” since her first Bailey visit in the 1970s.
DSG has been covering the Bailey since 1969.
DSG told the Queen represented the interests of some of the national media – and one of London’s ‘prestigious news groups – the Camden New Journal group’.
My colleague told me she was quite interested to hear about the New Journal and other papers.
I gather the champagne flowed and flowed, and that DSG hadn’t really recovered by yesterday afternoon (Wednesday) when I tried to contact him.
I’m reminded of a time when I tried to get into the Bailey to cover a case last autumn.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have my press credentials on me, and a security guard was making things difficult for me. Just when it seemed I would be turned away, DSG turned up said ‘hello’ – and the guard just waved me in!

Another slap for outspoken Keith?

TORY councillor Keith Sedgwick is defiantly standing up to the bullies on his council estate in Gospel Oak after being whacked in the hand with a belt buckle.
But it seems he has also had a (not so literal) rap across the knuckles at the Town Hall.
I gather Cllr Sedgwick was recently hauled in front of chief executive Moira Gibb and told in no uncertain terms to stop making his feelings known in the press.
He had called for the sackings of housing department staff over the estate wall that collapsed and killed a two-year old boy on his patch. From what we have seen from the outspoken Cllr Sedgwick since he was elected last May, I doubt Ms Gibb’s schoolmarmish approach will be enough to silence him.

Scoot off to Hampstead Theatre for fundraiser

SIR Ian McKellen will be among a gaggle of luvvies lending their weight to a gala fundraiser at Hampstead Theatre next Thursday, I hear.
Other names expected to turn out for the night – to raise £50,000 for a creative learning project for young theatre-lovers – include radio personalities Ned Sherrin and Sir Clement Freud and actress Alison Steadman.
Guests will be treated to a champagne reception followed by a performance of political satirist Alistair Beaton’s latest play, the King of Hearts and a sumptuous supper.
Tickets for the raffle – top prize a red Piaggio Zip Scooter – have already gone on sale at the theatre. To buy your ticket, contact the box office on 020 7722 9301.

Film on Fiery Jack

A FILM is to be made about the life and times of Jack Firestein, a born protester, who helped to lead countless campaigns in Camden in the 1980s and 1990s.
Friends of Firestein, who died two years ago, are being invited to the home of former mayor Gloria Lazenby on Sunday to reminisce about him under the spot lights. For details call Gloria Lazenby on 020 7485 8752.

Grade on the run

WHY is Michael Grade, who recently switched from the BBC to ITV as chairman, on the run from the press?

I was excited at the chance of hearing pearls of wisdom from the great man himself when the Jewish Association for Business Ethics (Jabe) sent me an invitation the other day to cover a talk by him on how to be successful in the media.
But at the last moment, Grade had barred me and other journos.
“We were under the impression that the event was open to the press but we have since been told the press is not allowed,” a Jabe spokesman said lamely, barring me from the event on Tuesday in the City.
“Mr Grade is talking about his personal experiences in broadcasting and the media and does not wish his personal views to be associated with his role as executive chairman of ITV, and has asked that the event is not reported.”
I know a lot of people would want to know how much he was offered to join ITV but it’s hardly likely he would have spilled the beans, so why has he got the jitters about the press?

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