A man who overcame significant challenges to achieve international success both as an athlete and an artist has been named the United States Sports Academy’s 2016 Sport Artist of the Year, Painter.
Gregory Burns, 58, is an acclaimed athlete and painter who proves daily that art and sport can co-exist on the highest levels. He is a world champion Paralympic swimmer who has won five gold and silver medals and broken four world records in three Paralympic Games. He is also a world-class contemporary artist, whose abstract impressionist paintings and exhibitions have received international acclaim for more than three decades.
Burns believes that polio, a disease long considered eradicated, is what galvanized him to pursue such a remarkably active set of dual careers. A child of U.S. Foreign Service parents, Burns contracted the disease while they served in the Middle East during the late 1950s. Since then, he has used crutches and braces to support his polio-weakened legs, which have carried him to gold medal podiums, mountain summits and backwater villages across the globe in pursuit of his sport and his art. Born in Washington, D.C., Burns has lived around the world.
“My base camps have included Washington D.C., Paris, Wiesbaden, The Hague, Pennsylvania Amish Country, Silicon Valley, Santa Barbara, Melbourne, Taipei, Hong Kong, Singapore and Shanghai, from where I have set off to explore one third of the world’s countries and most of her oceans,” said Burns, who currently resides in Singapore.
“Painting and writing allow me to express the deeper emotions and beliefs that constantly swim around inside me. These drives challenge me to discover just how far, and how dynamically I can move through water or over mountains to achieve success in sports or find inspiring landscapes.
“My passion for mobility motivates me to explore the world and all types of movement. Painting the human form while engaged in dynamic sporting activities is how I express the power of the human spirit.
“My art has been transformed by 30 years of international travel and competitive sports. Every facet of this big life has broadened the color palette by which I now create.”
In his more than 30 years as an artist, Burns has specialized in painting contemporary pieces inspired by the landscapes and architectural images that he has observed on his extensive travels throughout Asia, Europe and the Americas. The joy he derives from painting the figure infuses his Sports Art with the same energy he once reserved for athletics. After three decades of living in Asia, Burns now spends part of each year in Northern California where he visits with family and paints with the characteristic intensity and vigor that has made him a world champion swimmer.
“Seeking inspiration and wider understanding of different civilizations I set out over many decades researching and traveling to numerous sanctuaries throughout the world. Painting in and around these sacred sites referencing disparate religions and cultures I found common ground and a sense of peace.
“While immersed in forests and oceans, I connected with nature and observed how the universe creates order out of chaos. My paintings often reflect a similar methodology as I change and paint over works, often ending with something completely foreign to my initial intention.
“As with life, art is a journey. If we remain open, we often arrive at different, yet deeply fulfilling, destinations. My art attempts to convey the essence of this search as well as the power and importance of perseverance and optimism.
“While for decades I devoted myself to sports and the challenges therein, I now attempt to channel my energies into artwork that seeks to represent and uplift the human spirit.”
Burns earned his B.A. in Communication Studies with a minor in Art in 1980 from the University of California at Santa Barbara. He did graduate studies in Chinese painting, calligraphy and art history at Chung Da University in Taipei, Taiwan, in 1985. He earned his Master of Fine Art in painting at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia in 1999.
Burns has been the invited Artist-in-Residence at more than thirty resorts across the globe and his work is in the collections of Rias Ark Museum of Art, Japan; The Cumberland Hotel, UK; Jones Day, China; Bill and Hillary Clinton; the United States Olympic Committee; the Mingei International Museum, U.S.A.; the Drachen Foundation, U.S.A.; First Gulf Bank of Singapore; and many others.
He has held numerous solo exhibitions around the world including Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taipei, Singapore, Tokyo, Bali, San Francisco, Washington D.C., Marrakesh, Milan, and London.
Burns competed in the 1992, 1996 and 2000 Paralympic Games as a member of the USA Disabled Swim Team, capturing five gold and silver medals while breaking four world records. After retiring from competitive swimming he went on to complete the Korea IronMan race and the Singapore Half-IronMan. As a motivational speaker, Burns has sought to inspire audiences worldwide and has published three books: “Painted Journey,” “The Art of Mindfulness,” and “Color Your Life.” He has been featured on CNN, BBC, CNBC, ESPN, Time Magazine, The China Daily and many others. He has spoken twice at TedX conferences in Singapore.
The Sport Artist of the Year is part of the United States Sports Academy’s Awards of Sport, which each year serve as “A Tribute to the Artist and the Athlete.” The Academy presents the awards to pay tribute to those who have made significant contributions to sport, in categories as diverse as the artist and the athlete in several different arenas of sport. The awards honor exemplary achievement in coaching, all-around athletic performance, courage, humanitarian activity, fitness, and media, among others. The Academy’s American Sport Art Museum and Archives (ASAMA) annually recognizes these men and women through its Sport Artist of the Year, Honorary Doctorates, Distinguished Service Awards, Medallion Series, Outstanding Athletes, and Alumni of the Year awards.
Burns and other awardees will be honored in the Academy’s annual Awards of Sport program on 10 November 2016 on campus. For more about the art of Burns, go to his website at www.gregoryburns.com .
Based in Daphne, Ala., the United States Sports Academy is an independent, non-profit, regionally accredited, special mission sports university created to serve the nation and world with programs in instruction, research, and service. The role of the Academy is to prepare men and women for careers in the profession of sports. For more information about the Academy, call (251) 626-3303 or visit www.ussa.edu.
Founded in 1984, the American Sport Art Museum and Archives (ASAMA) is dedicated to the preservation of sports art, history, and literature. The ASAMA collection is composed of nearly 2,000 works of sport art across a variety of media, including paintings, sculptures, assemblages, prints and photographs. The museum is open free to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. For more information, go to www.asama.org.
By Keith Ayers
Keith Ayers is the Director of Communications at the United States Sports Academy. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.