The Art (& Politics) of Iconography

Hometown heroes are important. They prove success can come from anywhere – even the place you grew up in and swore you’d leave the second you turned 18, never to look back.

Jon Burns grew up hearing about icons like the great Sauk war chief Black Hawk and legendary entertainer Bix Beiderbecke. It completely baffles him that anyone would strive to find a connection between the Quad Cities and figures like Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee – both positively depicted in a public mural that went up in 2006 at the behest of Rock Island’s city council –  especially when there are so many better people with a tangible link to the area.

His show QC Icons and Landmarks: The Art of Jon Burns celebrates some of these better people. Coming to DeSoto Studio in Rock Island for August 2019 (opening reception is Friday, August 2 at 6pm), this collection champions the artist’s mission “[t]o archive the hand-made visual history of a city” that will only be vividly present for a finite period. That is to say, Burns aims to catalog the culture he sees around him – a local culture of a particular time and place, i.e., here and now. His experimental-pop style reflects this respect for the significance of daily human life as well as human history and our place in it.

Here are some of those folks we consider much more noteworthy than Davis or Lee:

You’ll probably recognize Burns’ technique if you’ve ever been to Ragged Records, where several favorite pieces are on display. He’s also shown work at The Artery, Rozz-Tox, the MidCoast galleries, the late Peanut Gallery, etc., etc. His mixed-media portraits incorporate elements of Dada and the schools of the early-20th century with contemporary surrealism. It’s a combination that’s entirely appropriate for an artist with a series dedicated to old new technology.

Fittingly, the Icons are all 20th and 21st century figures like musicians Jesse Johnson and Lissie, award-winning actor-and-producer Lara Flynn Boyle, and athlete Madison Keys. In addition to individual portraits, Burns’ DeSoto exhibition will include a large mural version of these influential people. It’s a potential replacement for the bizarre and infamous aforementioned mural.*

The Landmarks portion of the show documents buildings and structures that are or have been significant to locals. Some of these buildings are, to quote Burns’ artist’s statement, “already lost and some soon to be lost to the passing of time and development.” This will definitely spark debate among visitors. People get really worked up over buildings.

Family Resources of the Quad Cities will receive 25% of all proceeds from this exhibition. So go there and spend money and you’ll go to Heaven.

*Originally designed and painted on a different building in 1989, the current iteration of the mural is located across from the Rock Island Public Library. As far as I can tell, the only ties Jefferson Davis has to this area are 1) he probably passed through on his way north when he was stationed at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, and 2) he fought against the Sauk in the Black Hawk War – a conflict that ended in tragedy when the Sauk were forced to cede their homeland to the U.S. government and Chief Black Hawk, as a prisoner of war, was paraded around the country via federal circus.

Robert E. Lee, meanwhile, helped make early maps of the Mississippi River. So he probably stopped nearby, too. That’s why these two are celebrated on a mural north of the Mason-Dixon line over 150 years after the Confederacy dissolved. Because they stopped by for a visit.

Bill Murray stops in all the time, but you don’t see his face in any murals. Even though he’s a billion times better than Lee or Davis.