A clenched fist pumps in the air.
Two dreadlocked men – one in red, one in blue – face off in a striking double portrait.
Longtime Palm Beach County artist Anthony Burks Sr. created these powerful artworks that were officially unveiled as acquisitions of the Norton Museum of Art during the second annual Juneteenth Family Celebration. Burks is the first living local African American artist to have an acquisition in a major museum.
One of the pieces, Mirror Black, was created for an exhibition he co-curated called How Do We Move Forward at the Cultural Council for Palm Beach County in 2020; and Juneteenth was created onsite at the Norton on June 19, 2021, at the first annual Juneteenth Family Celebration.
“It was an overwhelming and emotional experience,” Burks said the day after the event. “This has been something that my wife and myself have been working on for 30 years for the local artist community. It was amazing to have family members, friends, fellow artists, community leaders, and business associates make time during this busy Juneteenth weekend to bear witness to this historic feat. Acquisition of a living local artist originally from the Pleasant City and Riviera Beach communities doesn’t come around too often.”
Burks, a Palm Beach County native, is a conceptual fine and commercial artist. He works in numerous forms of media including pen & ink, pastels, watercolor, and color pencil. Burks has been collected on a national and international level as well as in acquisitions including the City of West Palm Beach and Canopy Hilton in West Palm Beach.
The two pieces of work created by Burks were officially approved by the director and CEO of the museum, Ghislain d’Humières on June 19, 2021, to be in the R. H. Norton permanent collection.
Cheryl Brutvan, the museum’s former Director of Curatorial Affairs, acquired the works after a studio tour last year.
“West Palm Beach native Anthony Burks, Sr. is a gifted draughtsman [and painter] and creates exceptional drawings,” said Brutvan. “Specializing in portraiture, among other subjects, he renders friends and strangers in profile or placed face to face in fictional relationships. His intensely expressive renderings push the viewer to consider universal interactions such as seen in the drawing of two men titled Mirror Black. Burks also focuses on the powerful symbolism of a Black man’s raised arm with a clenched fist on Juneteenth. The gesture recalls the 1968 Olympics medal ceremony when American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised black-gloved arms to recognize the oppression of fellow countrymen. Despite their talent, they suffered professionally for decades for this action. He has reconsidered this historical subject reflecting on its continued meaning today.”
Last year the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County gave Burks and four others a $7500 grant in June to honor and support the creative individuals who form the core of Palm Beach County’s cultural sector.
“The Artist Innovation Fellowship Program exemplifies the Council’s mission to serve artists and creatives in Palm Beach County,” said Dave Lawrence, President, and CEO of the Cultural Council. “We’re thrilled to celebrate these individuals—the first ‘class’ of the program—and highlight their remarkable talents, unique discoveries, and contributions to our vibrant arts community.”
Burks is taking all this in stride, having been a full-time artist for over 20 years. As a resident artist at Zero Empty Spaces in Palm Beach Gardens, he mentors fellow artists and teaches them his techniques, and has been collaborating with several of the artists there.
He is also the co-founder of A.T.B. Fine Artists & Designers, an art-based consulting firm along with his wife Trina that curates shows for other artists and promotes the local arts scene. They have pulled together remarkable shows in pop-up spaces, exhibited dozens of community artists, and organized talks, potluck meals, and panels.
He employs colored pencils, watercolor, pen, and ink in his technique and his works use a rich deep variety of colors.
At the unveiling poet, Jashua SaRa did a 15-minute Spotlight on the piece. Burks’ wife, Trina Slade-Burks gave a talk on the piece Juneteenth which is based on the subject of artist Ramel Jasir.
“I want my audience to be as free in viewing my work as I am in creating it. I am willing to tackle the next stage of my artistic journey whatever it may be.”
For more on Burk see anthonyburkscollection.com
Follow him at @ampburks on Instagram