virtualubbock - Interview

What's New?

About Us
Contact Us

buy the book

Fire in the Water, Earth in the Air: Legends of West Texas Music
by Christopher Oglesby
Published by the University of Texas Press:
"As a whole, the interviews create a portrait not only of Lubbock's musicians and artists, but also of the musical community that has sustained them, including venues such as the legendary Cotton Club and the original Stubb's Barbecue. This kaleidoscopic portrait of the West Texas music scene gets to the heart of what it takes to create art in an isolated, often inhospitable environment. As Oglesby says, "Necessity is the mother of creation. Lubbock needed beauty, poetry, humor, and it needed to get up and shake its communal ass a bit or go mad from loneliness and boredom; so Lubbock created the amazing likes of Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock, Terry Allen, and Joe Ely."

buy the book

"Indeed, Oglesby's introduction of more than two dozen musicians who called Lubbock home should be required reading not only for music fans, but for Lubbock residents and anyone thinking about moving here. On these pages, music becomes a part of Lubbock's living history."
- William Kerns, Lubbock Avalanche Journal

Chris Oglesby Interviews
Downé Burns
Downe’s studio
Lubbock; 9/15/00

"An Important American Artist"
    Downé Burns is a self-taught artist who grew up in Lubbock. After studying art history and business at Texas Tech University for a brief time, he and his family moved to Santa Fe where Downé began painting.
Having no formal training, Downé just began painting what he felt. He says, "I'm very interested in color. I simply like to see how bright I can get the canvas."
Seeking to actually make a living being an artist, he began searching for a "theme." After creating a series of brilliantly colorful, impressionistic southwestern-style paintings, Downé became a renowned and sought-after painter, earning the title, "An Important American Artist."
After years of success in the cosmopolitan art world of Santa Fe, Downé and his wife Melissa returned to Lubbock seeking "to get back to the basics of love."

Chris: Tell me about your art "business;" What are you doing now?

Downé: What I’m mainly doing now; There’s an art distributor; a company called Progressive Editions - They’re based in Canada. What they do is they got an army of reps who go out and blanket all the galleries in the states. What I do is I wholesale all of my paintings directly to this company; I’m down at the bottom on the wholesale chain; I sell to them and they - in turn - go out and they wholesale to galleries. 
It eliminates me from having to deal with all the individual galleries, me having to ship work to a zillion different places.
Plus: they buy. That’s the big deal. They buy everything I do and it’s a done deal. Then they deal with it. I guess I‘ve been working with them for a couple of years.

But I didn’t do that for years. I used to work directly with galleries – here, there, and all over. We did all the shipping directly to ‘em.

I guess what happened is after 8 or 9 years of living over in New Mexico and doing everything....We did all the publishing and posters through our studio. We had a whole gallery front and a warehouse, much more of a - quote - "professional set-up," if you will...Whatever.
We published a lot of posters. We’d wholesale to print galleries, poster catalogs, everywhere…Doing posters - they call it in the industry, "sellin’ paper." You’re just "selling paper," so to speak, to all of these companies. They would buy vast, BIG volumes because they would then in turn be supplying a whole region of chains Wal-Marts.

We got into that business with that Southwestern series. It just leant itself to real commercial product.

I don’t really know what you call this series I'm workin' on now. I mean, I’m self-taught; So as far as "proper terms of art" and all that, I’ve never taken the time to even figger out why "what’s called what. "
So I don’t know what to call this series. I just know it’s not "Southwest."

I did that Southwest stuff when I was in Santa Fe…I’m not knockin’ it, because it was great for me. I did fantastic with it. But it ran its course for me.
I started the Southwest series in ’87, and just did it hot and heavy ‘til ’96.

Chris: So was that really your first work?

Downé: Pretty much. 

Chris: I remember that art show you were doing out at University Plaza [in Lubbock] back around that time - '88 or so.

Downé: Melissa and I had just left Lubbock at that time, taking off to Santa Fe. 
We’d only been there maybe 3 or 4 months, and I was ‘beating the bushes, just hounding the galleries day after day after day, tryin’ to get a gallery interested in my work. But you’re low-man on the totem pole…

The gallery scene is a real cruddy scene in my opinion…
I guess I should clarify that - What I mean by that is; You’re dealing with…and there’s always exceptions, I know; When I say this, it’s not everybody…
But you’re goin’ through these "directors"; You’re never getting to the people that are really running the galleries. 
Unfortunately - 9 times out of 10 - the gallery directors are ‘wannabe artists’; This is the closest that they can ever get.
So it’s like they resent you as soon as you come in that door. "Huh; Here’s somebody doin’ it. They’re out tryin’ to get it done."

You’re up against that resentment from the gallery directors; at least that’s what we always felt.

Chris: And that’s the only way you can make a living is to deal with that.

Downé: Yea. You had to hound these guys. And of course, they would always just blow you off.
So we got the idea…What we did was just put together a crude portfolio of snapshots of whatever work I had - and I had a zillion of ‘em - And we’d just go around to every galley in Santa Fe, day after day. Go in, show it to ‘em, try to leave it, go through that ordeal, y’know.

Chris: You were talking about that first art show in Lubbock at the University Plaza.

Downé: We had already moved to Santa Fe; This was back in 1987. Of course we was broke as all get-out, ‘cause I wasn’t workin’. We thought, "Hey, Let’s do an art show back in Lubbock."
I had all this work; I was just painting like mad once I got over there, just creating work as fast as I could…just thinking that was what you were supposed to do. 

There’s not a school that tells you what you do to be an artist. I mean, you can go to Tech but it’s two totally different things. I mean as far actually getting out and leafrning the business…y’know, it’s not like getting on with a law firm or a big company.

We were just trying everything under the sun. Do you remember my friend Shane Bowers?

Chris: I remember y’all hung out together all the time over there at "Grit Corner" at J.T Hutchinson.

Downé: Is that right? I hadn’t heard "Grit Corner" in a long time. [NOTE: A "Grit" is basically a Lubbock FFA/cowboy-type who dips snuff and wears a big-brimmed hat, dirces a big pickup listening to both AC/DC & George Strait; "Grit Corner" was where all the Grits hung out at JT Hutchinson Jr. High. – chris]

Downé: [Laughing] Anyway, we got a hold of Shane, and he had just gotten some insurance money at the time, from a death in the family, so we knew he had a little bit of money right then. We said, "Alright, you put up five hundred bucks to rent this big room out at The Plaza and print up some invitations. And if we sell anything, you get back - blah, blah, blah…"
It was just something to do. And that deal; I mean, as far as publicity and attendance, we got back a lot. We got the radio stations and all this free publicity. Sold 5 or 6 pieces. It was a good start.

We went back to Santa Fe, and then within about six months of being in Santa Fe we had made a trip over to Scotsdale in Arizona. I hooked up with a gallery there that wanted to give my work a try. So they gave me a show, a one-man exhibition and…sold everything. It was just a fairy tale deal. 

From there on in...It literally was just unheard of; I just hit it at the right time with the right theme. They sold out all the work, and they had done an ad in a national art magazine, in Southwest Art.

And word travels pretty fast in the art community. Galleries keep their ear to the ground for "Who’s Hot?" That’s the term.

Once that happened - literally within 8 months, I bet - we were showing in 20-some-odd galleries. I mean they were just like flies. When you "HIT" like that, I mean they’re just calling from everywhere. Wherever there’s art galleries around the States, they’re just calling constantly, "Can we carry your work? Can we carry your work?"

Chris: I remember, I realized I had made a big mistake when I didn’t buy something at that University Plaza show, when I was at some mall, and I was flipping through some Southwest prints and I saw "Downé Burns…Important American Artist" on all these prints. Here he’s an "Important American Artist," and I was one of the Seven Dwarves with him. [In a school play at Roscoe Wilson Elementary, Downé played Doc and I played Sneezy. – chris]

Downé: That’s right! You’ve got a good memory!

Chris: That was my first acting role.

Downé: That was my last.

Chris: Growing up at Roscoe Wilson and Hutch, you and Shane Bowers were big cowboys - "Grits" - and I just never would have guessed that you would have ended up an artist. 

You told me you were self-taught; How did you start doing that? I know that your parents owned that graphics print store over there on University. Are your parents artists? How did this all start?

Downé: Dad is a self-taught artist.

Chris: His name is Doreman, right?

Downé: Yea. Doreman Burns. When I was a kid, he always painted - but he just did it for himself, for his own enjoyment. So I was around it, but I didn’t do much when I was a kid. He had a little room in the house converted to his studio, and I drew a little bit when he’d be back there.

Before we had the gift store there on University – See, we owned that building - We owned and ran B&B Music.

Chris: I remember that now! It was a record store. I bought my first ‘45’ there.

Downé: It was a record store; right. Back in that era of Fat Dawg’s and all of that, B&B Music was THE record store in that area around the university.

So my biggest influence throughout the years was the music. I just grew up around all that music. The record store was there from ’68 to ’82…And that was my biggest influence. I just grew up around so much music!

Everything from Jazz to Rock-n-Roll to Country…It was just being in that record store.

Then I was naturally exposed to all the locals just trying to get on their feet at that time - Joe Ely, Jay Boy Adams… See, at that time B&B Music was really THE top record store in town. So when all the bands would come to town, we sold the tickets - for Pat Benatar or Foghat or whoever - And at that time it was still real common to get in-store record signings, when they were here to play at the Coliseum. So I always got to meet whatever big act was here in town.

That’s what I’ve said over all the years: I know....I look back; It was the Music. I mean, in the back of my mind, music created a real creative environment that I grew up in. Especially growing up from both sides of it like I did - I saw the marketing side that the musicians went through.

When I was a kid I thought I would go into music, to make a long story short. But once I graduated high school and I realized I couldn’t really sing and I couldn’t play an instrument....And dad had always painted, so Bingo! I had determined that I was gonna do something creative so I thought, "I’ll just paint!"

I mean it was as simple as that; I just thought, "Okay. I’m gonna be an artist." I can draw a little bit. So I just started painting. I asked Mom & Dad if I could convert one side of their garage into my studio. Of course, Mom thought I had lost my mind. And Dad was like "Go for it! Cool, you can do it."

Of course, everybody here in Lubbock goes over to Santa Fe for vacations. It’s not a far-off place to us. Because we'd go skiing there, I’d been over there many, many times and seen the galleries.
So it’s not like somebody from Lubbock saying, "Well, I’m gonna act," and people say, "You need to go to Hollywood for that." And if you’re from Lubbock you’re thinking, "Gahlee, that’s a long ways from home!"
Whereas, being an artist, it was like, "You need to go to Santa Fe." That’s just where you go. And that’s not too far from home. It was an easy transition.

Because if you’re gonna be in art…Well, the three art capitals are Santa Fe, New York, and Paris.

Chris: So Santa Fe was close, right in the backyard. Now, did your whole family move over there at that time…your folks and everybody?

Downé: Yea. Once Melissa and I took off over there and - like I said - within a year had so much success at it…And Dad was sick of the retail business. He had gotten out of the record business and had gotten into that college gift-store, and still he was getting tired of the whole rat-race.
I told him then, "Dad, if I can make a living at this…You’re the real artist in the family. You’re the one that has really always pursued this and is practiced at it. If I can do it, y’all need to just pack up and come over here."
Next thing you know they did; they just sold everything they had here, took off and moved into the hill country around Santa Fe, kinda hermitized for a few years. Started painting. They still live outside of Albuquerque. He paints full-time. My mom paints full-time.

Breck ended up going over to Santa Fe, too. [Breck is Downé’s younger sister] Breck ended up with a greeting card company. She designed a line of hand-painted greeting cards.

Chris: She hand-paints them?

Downé: Yea. She did that for like five years. Breck just sold that business about 2 years ago. She just wanted to be a homemaker with her two kids, and didn’t want to do that any more.

Chris: So they were all individual hand-painted cards?

Downé: Once they got the company really running, they started silk-screening the majority of it…which again is a laborsome process...and then she’d go in and highlight ‘em, y’know, hand-paint ‘em. She’d paint thousands of cards. She just got tired of it, and a lady around Austin has some sort of art business; they crossed paths and she made her an offer to buy it. And Breck was like, "It’s yours. I’m outa' here. I’m tired of doing it."

Chris: Do you wanta talk about you teaching yourself art? Or do you wanta talk about your art itself? You said you don’t really know how to categorize it.

Downé: When I got into the painting, my approach to it; I was never – for lack of a better term – "artsy-fartsy." That side of the whole art scene is such a big side – and to music also, art in general – that so many people get into the WHOLE scene; like "We’re into the art. We’re all pretty laid back. Real free-spirits." You know? That side of it is real big in Santa Fe.

I was never "the Artist" from that standpoint. That didn’t appeal to me.

Chris: You felt more like "the Cowboy" or "the Grit"?

Downé: Yea. And I used that as my marketing theme. I really took a whole different approach. When I got into it, I had that music background - as far as seeing it marketed. 

My idea right off the bat was, "If I ever start making any money at this, I’m gonna advertise. I’m gonna put every penny I make into it."

I wanted to come up with "an image" for myself as "Downé Burns: The Artist" which had never been done. I just looked at the art world, comparing it the music – ‘cause that’s just what I knew – I just saw how all the glitz and glamour - how they did that.

Chris: You mean a performance, basically.

Downé: Yea. So that was my concept.
go to page 2

Do you like the interviews you have been reading on
Buy the book by author Christopher Oglesby
Fire in the Water, Earth in the Air:
Legends of West Texas Music

"As a whole, the interviews create a portrait not only of Lubbock's musicians and artists, but also of the musical community that has sustained them, including venues such as the legendary Cotton Club and the original Stubb's Barbecue. This kaleidoscopic portrait of the West Texas music scene gets to the heart of what it takes to create art in an isolated, often inhospitable environment. As Oglesby says, "Necessity is the mother of creation. Lubbock needed beauty, poetry, humor, and it needed to get up and shake its communal ass a bit or go mad from loneliness and boredom; so Lubbock created the amazing likes of Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock, Terry Allen, and Joe Ely." - University of Texas Press

buy the book

home Interviews Stories video What's New?

About Us

Copyright 2007 Chris Oglesby
All rights reserved