An Introduction to the Work of Steve Burden
Written by Georgie Bailey
We paint because we have a unique story to tell. A story that has never been told. A true story. A real story. Our story is not decorative. Steve Burden, Manifesto 
On our little island called Britain, there’s a side of society rarely discussed creatively. In the history of art, a particular underbelly of this world is often forgotten, sensationalised or misrepresented in favour of those who can speak in tongues laden with money and privilege. Stories often revolve around ‘getting out’ of a certain environment, of wanting to ‘do better’ than current circumstances allow, or glorify violence through the lens of art, allowing a tourist attraction experience, or poverty safari to breed through the creativity surrounding those from lower socio-economic backgrounds. From the deemed lower classes. 
Steve Burden is a fresh brushstroke in this complex canvas.
Born on the Pepys Estate, Deptford, Steve grew up surrounded by the brutalist architecture of this high-rise council estate and the incidents which arose from it. Needles thrown out of windows and dogs chasing lads through narrow streets are just some of the varied events he recalls from his childhood which illustrate a dynamic, mature upbringing that still presents fresh inspiration for him to this very day. 
The paintings are a part of us. Through the act of painting, we find ourselves.
Steve’s visceral work dissects his personal history against a backdrop of British tower blocks and bleak environments, wrestling with the fire that burns deep underneath the working class, as lit by those that oppress and demonise it. His works provide eclectic juxtapositions between the isolated urban worlds of England and the underserved, forgotten and misrepresented people inhabiting them. 
ABATTOIR sews a string of societal history from Britain’s Urban environments in a visceral, vibrant, and violent oil painting; showcasing questions of what it means to live as a lower-class citizen in this country across multiple generations. Meanwhile, works such as Sunk Estate aim to put Britain’s social housing and its more youthful residents on a huge scale, creating a towering and haunting effect riddled with nostalgia. 
One of his most striking pieces, the Pepys Triptych traverses the space taken up by the three signature 24-storey towers which dominate the Pepys Estate Steve grew up on. Shrouded in blood red, these three paintings of 1:34 scale reflect a face-on view of the blocks, creating an unnerving and towering effect. Each of these pieces was then clad in Perspex, offering a nod to the cosmetic cladding of the estate in 1990s which was used to paper over the cracks and provide some regeneration. From a distance, the Pepys Triptych looks contemporary, popping with colour and freshness, which is then subverted on closer inspection. Place provides a great deal of interesting juxtaposition and provocations in Steve’s work, offering the space to take direct inspiration, such as the cladding, to question how we see the world around us today.
It is bold, has narrative and is epic. We explore new methods of application and have license to break old rules and invent new ones. 
I had the pleasure of working with Steve on a collaborative project, Unreal Estates, which looked to dig deep into what home means, and what the landscape of Britain looks like through housing in various cities across the country. Steve and I worked collectively on a piece titled The Waters of Brygstow, utilising houseboats in Bristol as our stimulus for my five-part narrative poem and Steve’s collection of brand-new artworks depicting one particular barge through different centuries and the shift from a working vessel to a holiday home stained with solar panels, stripped of most of its original features. 
Much like with ABBATOIR, Steve had a strong sense of investigating the history of place, and what that place now looks like, combined with a want to tackle the gentrification of historically working-class locations. Steve is a wonderful collaborator and brings an urgent energy to a working relationship, culminating in 5 beautiful pieces which are engulfed in broad brushstrokes of murky blues from a harbour with a rich legacy of Bristolian sailors, alongside shades of Guinness in black, red, and beige lining the stomach of each piece. His paintings gloriously reinforce the written narrative and work harmoniously to allow a generational story to sing from the harbours of the 1800s, right through to the holiday barges which now sit in their place, gathering rust. 
As with The Waters of Brygstow, Steve’s works are often inspired by language and particular vocabulary choices, with Samuel Beckett, Ballard and even chants from Millwall fans providing stimuli for his paintings. Words find their way into Steve’s work too, amplifying messages and asking direct questions, such as in Feral Underclass and The Reason is Treason, providing an unavoidable sense that preconceptions need to be extinguished. 
Mythological creatures and dystopian themes are also intertwined in Steve’s work through strokes of darkened blues, reds and greens containing undertones of fear, contempt, and violence. The Green Man crops up numerous times, signifying ideas of regeneration and growth alongside ghostly creatures offering a more brutal, darker and ethereal side. His pieces WHITE HORSE and AD CANIBUS sparkle with personal experiences and beauty masking honest, if not frightening situations through ethereal, spirit-like animals; exploring drug-related incidents, human nature and the fear children might hold onto in an environment like the Pepys Estate. 
We explore new methods of application and have license to break old rules and invent new ones.
Steve is an artist of constant evolution, and his path is adapting and advancing at an incredible rate. He has a vested interest in the youth of today, particularly of the futures of white working-class boys, who, as Steve tells me, slip through the net of higher education and support to continue learning new skills.
This is intrinsically linked to one of Steve’s 2020 works, created specifically for Kosar Contemporary titled Bottom of the Class. This multi-faceted piece looks to divulge the hidden side of our society, blowing it up to be unmissable to its audience. Statistically, only 2% of all white working-class boys attend higher tariff institutions, often fallen through the gap of support from our education system. Using oil, acrylic, spray paint and emulsion, Steve paints a holistic picture of this injustice and navigates a narrative that is often seen as taboo which no one wants to talk about or admit. The words “no one likes us, and we don’t care” are sprawled chaotically over an English flag, combined with depictions of the Pepys Estate tower blocks and splashes of green, black and red. He admits it’s a messy issue. One that can’t be solved overnight. And one that is complex to discuss, but a crucial topic nonetheless. And one that Steve is trying to combat, tackle and challenge. 
Steve has a commitment to encouraging the development of young working-class kids as artists, as creatives and as humans, offering opportunities that weren’t made available to him at such an age. Through programmes such as a nationwide schools project to get young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds into art, Steve is inspiring the next generation of working-class creatives, and his dedication to this endeavour lights a different kind of fire. Paints a different kind of picture. 
One of hope. One of promise. One that should see stories told that are so often disregarded on this little island we call home.

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