Heavy Equipment Goes Artistic

Fri June 06, 2014 - National Edition
Cindy Riley


Brad Burns stands proudly with one of his pieces.
Brad Burns stands proudly with one of his pieces.
Brad Burns stands proudly with one of his pieces. Burns uses archival quality duck canvas on traditional stretcher bars to create his pieces, utilizing a technique called a gallery wrap. Whether painting a demolition job, or a huge project with millions of dollars of equipment rolling, Brad Burns guides his brush to tell a story. Early on, Burns spent countless hours at dusty job sites, sketching and creating compositions. He later discovered working from patrons’ photographs was a much better way to focus on the details and intricacies of his subjects. Brad Burns said he spent over two hundred hours on Quarry Cats, in order to capture the essence of the landscape, equipment and the exquisite sunrise on the horizon. Burns demonstrates how he creates his unique works of art.

From an early age, Brad Burns was intrigued by the machinery he would ultimately capture on canvas.

“When I was a boy growing up in what is now the Silicon Valley, there was a lot of agriculture,” Burns said. “The farmer had this device that would grab the tree and shake it, dropping the fruit onto a catching blanket. It would shake the whole ground. Then construction began turning apricot and prune orchards into sub-divisions. I was amazed how these huge smoke-belching, bone-rattling machines could do so much work in such a short time.”

Born in Kansas, the 60-year-old Burns, studied fine art at the University of California at Santa Cruz, with an emphasis on painting and printmaking. Years later, he was approached by different art directors for various publications to create cover and spot illustrations. One of those commissions was creating a monthly cover for a trade publication for the heavy equipment and underground utility industries.

“I began getting calls from contractors saying they needed art for their offices, and it was important for them to show their commitment to the industry that helped make them successful,” said Burns. “They wanted their clients, employees and their colleagues to see they were passionate about what they do every day. I really enjoy painting heavy equipment, job sites and work crews, and I find it challenging to depict the symmetry and sheer power of these really quite astounding machines.”

As for what inspires him, “I believe beauty can be found in the most inconspicuous places — the texture on a rusted bucket, a piece of equipment that has been painted over and over with each layer showing through to create a texture that has a real story. Also, I have done some wonderfully liberating portraits of founders and executives, geared up on site, with huge grins on their faces. I think they were happy to be out of their offices and free from paperwork for a few precious hours. They seem to go back to a place when their lives were about moving dirt around and building things for others.”

Burns’ first large scale in-house art installation was for Mike Preston, CEO of Preston Pipelines in Milpitas, Calif.

“He was building a beautiful new facility and his interior designer and I worked closely together to develop paintings that would help tell their story and harmonize with the palette chosen. Since that time, I have been blessed to have created over two hundred paintings in over twelve countries including Italy, Germany, Finland, Japan, France and China. I am honored to have paintings in some of the most prestigious contractor, insurance company and law firms in the world.”

Early on, Burns spent countless hours at dusty job sites, sketching and creating compositions. He later discovered working from patrons’ photographs was a much better way to focus on the details and intricacies of his subjects.

“I start by doing the compositions in PhotoShop, using a pressure sensitive tablet which gives me the freedom to composite multiple photographs and sketches and to move things around, change colors, enhance important areas and remove distracting objects,” said Burns. “After I create the drawing digitally, I transfer the line work to stretched canvas and create the painting either using acrylics or traditional oil paint, glazes and varnishes.”

Burns uses archival quality duck canvas on traditional stretcher bars to create his pieces, utilizing a technique called a gallery wrap. Whether painting a demolition job, or a huge project with millions of dollars of equipment rolling, he guides his brush to tell a story.

“I try to capture a moment, a sunrise, an oncoming storm, early morning and movement, people’s personalities and, of course the massive power of these machines.”

A father of eight, who loves surfing in his spare time, Burns enjoys a laid-back lifestyle on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. The boardroom, however, does not intimidate him having worked closely with CEO’s of major companies.

“My experience has always been positive. They are big boys with big toys and huge budgets. I have worked with a lot of different people in many different industries, including high-tech, bio-tech, galleries and art dealers.”

Burns said, “I pour my heart, soul and twenty-five years experience into every painting I do, but one stands out. I created a piece for Ghilotti construction in Santa Rosa of their work on the new San Francisco 49er’s stadium, which proudly hangs in the corporate offices of the team. A large print also hangs in the Ghilotti headquarters.”

Burns’ client list includes unions, trade groups, attachment manufacturers, equipment manufacturers, auction houses and individuals. He’s completed in-house art installations in California, Texas and Dubai for Iron Planet, as well as three calendars. His pieces generally take forty hours to complete, depending on scale.

“I spent over two hundred hours on Quarry Cats, in order to capture the essence of the landscape, equipment and the exquisite sunrise on the horizon. It’s very large, at 14 feet x 5 feet.”

Usually in his studio by 5 a.m., Burns also creates seascapes, traditional landscapes and florals. But his passion for the construction industry is clear.

“This is about people and their lives. It can get emotional, and I like it like that. I owe them a deep sense of gratitude.”

Regarding his future goals, “I would love to have a show in France and here on the island. But from a philosophical point of view, I believe there is beauty and intrigue in all of God’s wondrous creation, if you just open up your awareness and stop looking for something that has already found you.”