The beauty of urban landscapes

When Sarah F. Burns sits by the side of Highway 99, painting the roadway, run-down buildings and power lines, she often attracts the attention of people who want to know why she is focused on something so ugly.

"When people come and talk to me, you can tell they're thinking, 'Why are you making a painting of that highway?'" she said.

But to Burns, urban landscapes have their own beauty.

"I've always enjoyed landscape painting," she said. "But there aren't a lot of places in the landscape that are without power lines, buildings and highways. I started to realize that was more interesting to me a lot of the time. When I would go to a beautiful place like the coast or a winery, I would think, 'This is just not as fun.' "

She added, "I don't like idealizing things. I like to tell the truth about our time and our culture."

Burns works in Ashland as the programs director for the downtown Ashland Art Center and lives in Phoenix. Driving back and forth, she has plenty of opportunity to look for scenes of wear and tear along Highway 99.

Burns said her urban paintings don't turn out very well when she turns her attention to quaint, well-kept towns like Ashland and Jacksonville.

"I like to go to a town where its heyday was 40 years ago. I like a run-down feel or highway scenes," she said.

Burns said some people may think she is trying to insult their towns.

"I don't mean it like that at all. I love old things," said Burns, an avid collector of 1950s furniture.

She once attracted quite a crowd when she was painting outside a Phoenix tavern in the middle of the day.

"Everyone in the bar came out to see. People in a bar at three in the afternoon are not usually the same as the ones who are collecting art," she said.

Burns graduated from Ashland High School before studying contemporary art at the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland and classical realist art at the Ashland Academy of Art.

Many of the urban scenes she paints remind her of her childhood.

In one, she captured Kim's Asian restaurant in Medford, showing its rooftop decorative pagoda and circular doorways with red awnings.

"I remember going into that restaurant as a kid. It was like Disneyland to me," she said. "It has such cool, ornate stuff on the outside."

Burns also draws and paints the human figure and still-life scenes.

She has a permanent installation of meat portraits at the meat-centric Smithfields Restaurant and Bar at 36 S. Second St. in Ashland.

Now through January, she is showing urban landscapes at Peerless Restaurant, 265 Fourth St., Ashland.

She will exhibit small pieces in the Ashland Painters Union's December exhibit, "Not the Size of the Canvas," that opens on Dec. 7. A reception will be held there from 5 to 8 p.m. during Ashland's First Friday Art Walk.

The Ashland Painters Union's gallery is located upstairs on the downtown Plaza at 271/2; N. Main St. No. 2. Regular hours are 1 to 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and by appointment.

Burns will have an experimental installation at that gallery in January, and will be part of a February figurative show at Illahe Gallery & Studio, 215 Fourth St., Ashland.

The versatile Burns also will teach classical realist drawing and painting techniques at the Ashland Art Center in January.

Additionally, she sells a variety of her paintings and drawings online at

Reach reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-479-8199 or

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