If you’ve lived in Northeast Pennsylvania for any amount of time, you’ve probably seen Austin Burke’s work.
The artist has lived in Archbald with his wife, Marianne, since the 1970s. And in addition to serving as the longtime head of the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce, he’s painted innumerable sights and scenes of Northeast Pennsylvania.
Here’s what he had to say about his artistic roots and what inspires him lately:
Q: When did you begin painting?
A: My interest in art was triggered by an art history course Karl Neuroth taught 50 years ago at Keystone College. Following my discharge from the US Air Force in 1969, I enrolled at Keystone. My sampling of courses there included Karl’s course. That excited me about art, but my family and career took precedence for a few decades.
In the late 90s, I started experimenting with watercolors along with my children. I dabbled until my retirement when I was able to return to Keystone College for a serious education in making art — primarily drawing and painting. It was exciting, productive and energizing. There’s nothing like the critiques of very talented 20-year-old art students to sharpen your game in a hurry. This semester I’m taking Ward Roe’s senior seminar in painting at Keystone College, 50 years after my start there.
My style has remained consistent. Primarily I paint representational landscapes — iconic buildings and scenes in our region that people can recognize and relate to. In one sense I’m preserving some of the tremendous architecture here: courthouses, churches, schools, the Heritage Valley Trail. I’m also documenting unique community events such as the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the Race of the Saints and the “Up the Eynon Party.” These resonate strongly with the people of our Valley.
Q: Where do you find inspiration?
A: Other artists such as the American Realists Winslow Homer and Edward Hopper inspire me. Seeing their work suggests local subjects or treatments. Favorite paintings I’ve done that reflect their influence include “The Electric City at Night,” “Joe Biden’s Life Journey,” “St Thomas Aquinas Church, Archbald,” “Sacred Heart Church, Peckville” and “Eagle on the Lackawanna.”
The subjects that excite me and also mean something to the community dictate my choices for the next painting. Of course, when
a patron commissions a painting of a particular subject, that gets my attention.
Q: Where do you paint?
A: I’m very slow at what I do, so painting outside doesn’t work for me. I’ll research a scene, considering angles, composition and lighting. Then I’ll take photos and make notes and return to my home where Marianne allows me one room where I research, plan and sketch. I have another room upstairs where I can set up and work on my oil paintings which can take weeks to complete. I also have an office in the Scranton Enterprise Center where I show my work and handle sales and logistics.
Q: What are you working on right now?
A: Right now on my easel is a snowy winter watercolor of Honesdale’s Wayne County Courthouse. My next will be a fun painting of the Office’s Dunder Mifflin “Dundee Award” being presented on the steps of Scranton’s City Hall. Lots of excitement there.
Shows during this time of pandemic are a difficult decision. My work can be seen at my web site, www.AustinBurkeArt.com and purchased at the Library Express in the Mall at Steamtown, the AFA Gallery, the Gathering Place, the Everhart Museum Gift Shop and the Wayne County Arts Alliance as well as online at www.FineArtAmerica.com.
Q: When you’re not painting, what do you do to keep busy?
A: When I’m not painting, walking our Heritage Valley Trail brings me joy every day. Fly fishing in the Lackawanna River in Archbald provides fresh air and exercise but not many fish. An afternoon nap can also be a welcome, if guilty pleasure.
I still volunteer in community projects and continue to serve on the boards of the Pennsylvania Finance Authority and the Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority, boards which used to get me to Harrisburg every month prior to COVID-19 lockdowns.