missives 1 iv med res

(b. 1949 Birmingham, England)

Ricky Burnett has always been interested in abstraction and non-figurative image-making. He has drawn inspiration from Cezanne but cites Rembrandt and Goya as artists of great tenderness who also worked with the painterly quality of paint. His recent series have been inspired by Goya’s etchings and paintings, but the paint soon takes on a direction of its own. Often Burnett will use the pivot points in a particular composition of a Goya image as a starting point for a work. The works develop a surface tension that is derived from looking at the Goyas – so the final paintings become a derivation rather than a representation. Often all that remains of the Goya source is the whiteness of a page, the suggestion of pencil marks, the red from the bloody bullet holes on a white shirt or the colour of someone’s red garment. Burnett likes to quote the Sung Dynasty poet Yang Wan-li:

“Now, what is poetry? If you say it is simply a matter of words, I will say good poets get rid of words. If you say it is simply a matter of meaning, I will say a good poet gets rid of meaning. ‘But,’ you ask, ‘without words and meaning, where is the poetry?’ To this I reply, ‘Get rid of words and get rid of meaning, and still there is poetry.’ ”


Ricky Burnett is a painter and a teacher of painting. Born in Birmingham, England, in 1949, Ricky Burnett moved to South Africa at the age of six. He attended Wits University, where he studied Medicine before switching to a BA degree in the Humanities. In 1972, he met the artist, Bill Ainslee, and within a year he was making art objects. Almost simultaneously, he started to teach – and found an aptitude and passion for teaching that remains with him today. His remarkable talent for curating also emerged soon afterwards: he curated two exhibitions for the Art Foundation. These were followed by two solo exhibitions of his own work at the Market Theatre Gallery and the Enthoven Gallery, South Africa.

For several years, Burnett would remain associated with the Art Foundation and write reviews for the local newspaper, Rand Daily Mail. A major turn occurred when he started the BMW Tributaries project, which involved collecting artworks throughout Southern Africa. Following the success of Tributaries, Burnett moved to London in 1985. There he worked on what would eventually become the famous Brenthurst Collection, now on permanent loan at the Johannesburg Art Gallery.

In 1989, Burnett returned to South Africa to curate a ground-breaking exhibition of renowned sculptor, Jackson Hlungwani’s work. The following year, Burnett established Newtown Galleries with collector and philanthropist, Mary Slack, granddaughter of Sir Ernest Oppenheimer. This gallery was the first in the country to exhibit new work from the rest of continental Africa. Burnett curated around thirty exhibitions during this period.

Burnett moved to the United States in 2001, near Seattle, where he continued to teach and make art before returning to South Africa in 2007. He soon re-established himself as a teacher and curator – and curated the celebrated ‘Horse’ exhibition at the Everard Read (Johannesburg) and CIRCA. A series of ground-breaking exhibitions also followed: ‘Margins’ (Everard Read Johannesburg, 2008), ‘Resurrection Cycles & On Skin’ (smac, 2009), ‘Damascus Gate’ (Gallery 2, 2014), ‘Troubled with Goya’ (Everard Read Johannesburg, 2015) and ‘Goya Adaptations’ (Everard Read, Johannesburg, 2016). In 2016, Palimpsest Press published a book about Ricky Burnett’s recent work. Titled Troubled with Goya, it features photographs by Liz Whitter and Ricky Burnett in conversation.


Winter 2022|23, Everard Read, London, UK

Winter 2020, Everard Read, London, UK
Bronze, Steel, Stone & Bone, Everard Read, London, UK

CO-RESPONDENCES - a collaboration with Deborah Bell, Everard Read, Johannesburg, South Africa

Southern Abstraction, Everard Read, London, UK

Goya Adaptations, Everard Read, Johannesburg, South Africa

Troubled with Goya, Everard Read Johannesburg, South Africa
When Feelings Associate a Consciousness Forms, Everard Read Galley, Johannesburg, South Africa

Damascus Gate, Gallery 2, South Africa

Resurrection Cycles & On Skin, Smac, South Africa

Margins, Everard Read, Johannesburg, South Africa

Resident Artist, Fordsburg Artists’ Studios, Johannesburg, South Africa
Black Front Gallery, Olympia.

Previous: Two solo shows in London, a group exhibition in Germany, numerous solo and group exhibitions in South Africa, including the high profile ‘Four Johannesburg Painters’ touring exhibition, launched at the National Gallery of South Africa


Tributaries was the first exhibition in South Africa to bring together the many diverse threads of South African society, South Africa
Jackson Hlungwani, a retrospective exhibition of a virtually unknown rural artist that later earned him the status of one of South Africa’s two ‘artists of the millennium’, South Africa
Persons and Pictures: the modernist eye in Africa, an exhibition of contemporary art from countries formerly under British rule and influence, South Africa 
Re-placing, held at the Pretoria art museum, South Africa
Numerous exhibitions for Newtown Galleries. This was a large +/- 6,000 sq ft venue which was used to display provocative and stimulating explorations involving many of South Africa’s most prominent artists, as well as artists from the rest of Africa and from abroad, South Africa
The New Delhi Triennale, commissioned in 1995 to curate South Africa’s entry to the New Delhi Triennale.
Horse – Everard Read and CIRCA, 2011, South Africa


MAFA, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa