Tomorrow Is A Gift


- Amedee Ozenfant

Artist, Theoretician, Teacher
1886 - 1966

John at Amedee Ozenfant's School of Fine Arts in New York City John attending art school in New York City

John writes....
January of 1947, after having spent four years in the U.S. Anti-aircraft Artillery during World War II, I returned at the age of 22 to life as an art student by registering at the Ozenfant School of Fine Arts at 208th East 20th Street in New York City.

Before the war there had been four years of studying drawing and painting in a somewhat unfocused fashion; three at the Portland (Maine) School of Fine and Applied Arts, followed by one at the National Academy of Design in New York city, the latter supplemented by classes with Yasuo Kuniyoshi at the Art Students League.

Fortuitously my length of services in the Army entitled me to four years of college under the G.I. Bill. I applied to, and was accepted by, Harvard College. But I wasn't there long before I discovered that my quest to become a creative artist was more likely to be stymied than fulfilled by the Harvard Arts Department's methodology.

The door to what I was instinctively seeking opened when I read an ad in the New York Times announcing that Amedee Ozenfant was accepting students at his G.I. Bill approved school in New York. I promptly went to the city for an interview, was accepted and before long was launched on a program designed to make an artist of me so far as formal education could help.

John with a Second grade class - Dancer
John with a second grade class in Portland, ME showing the children a painting he created entitled Dancer One started training for painting at Ozenfant's not by using colors, but by composing black and white images with pencils, specifically the points of pencils. A pencil sharper at hand was a prerequisite, for each impression on the paper had to be as controlled as possible. John in his Portland, ME apartment with a banner he created entitled Fear NotThe overall design emerged from series of dots, crosses, triangles, squares, etc. in a process that might take weeks, months even, to complete. And as the drawings progressed the Master critiqued each student individually once a week, with all the students gathered at the individuals' easel.

Similarly for painting which in due course I started to do. Initially that, too, began very cerebrally with the construction of color charts exploring the range of the intensity and values of colors, much as one scans on the charts in paint stores.With all that as a foundation one could at last proceed to express one's vision.

Fear Not Banner

I was not aware, as some of the students were indeed knowledgeable about (and painted accordingly) that Ozenfant was not in favor (at that period of his career, at least) of pure abstraction. He insisted that for successful communication be between artist and spectator some degree of objectivity was necessary, something in the painting recognizable, capable of being responded to.

So he would stand before my easel and make out patterns of fields as seen from an airplane where I was painting arrangements of varied colored rectangles. Art Exibition in Portland, ME - Yo Creo
John with a painting he created entitled Yo Creo In my last year with him there was one small thing I did, an oil on paper barely (12 x 16) CANTICLE I , that consisted of groupings of green, blue and white steep triangles that beheld upright suggested a mountainside of evergreen trees (reminiscent to me of trips I had made through the Berkshires), but which if turned upside down suggested fleets of sailboats (in Casco Bay) - or again might appear to be vaguely the face of a person. Thus it was abstract and non-abstract simultaneously, depending on what the viewer saw.

When it was nearly finished Ozenfant stood before my easel one day, the coterie of students gathered around, paused a while and then exclaimed " He paints with passion this Burke."

It was an accolade that pleased me, naturally. The painting was the first I made which somebody wanted to buy. Later I loaned it to a colleague and it got lost. Many years later I tried to recreate it in larger dimensions, but each time the image evolved into something else entirely. "Regatta " and "Flight" above .

Regatta Flight

Monday May 14, 2007 - Portland Press

John Gregory Burke
December 1, 1919 - May 14, 2007
A Poem about John

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