Burton Dickerson (1925-2022) was an abstract expressionist painter and multimedia artist. His body of work engages 20th century American modernism with a dynamic, post-modern sensibility and an influence on the independent Los Angeles music scene of the 1980s-2000s.
Burton Dickerson (1925-2022) was born in Detroit, Michigan. He received a Master of Arts (MA) degree from the University of Michigan and a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree from the Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1963. Throughout his career, Dickerson explored abstraction through large, color-rich paintings on canvas. His paintings were collected by important corporate collectors in the Midwest, such as Nathan Cummings, and he was represented by regional galleries including the Gertrude Kasle Gallery and the Lee Hoffman Gallery.
From the 1980’s on, Dickerson split his time between Michigan and Los Angeles, where he experimented with animated film, including the work Blinded by Glare, which was shown on MTV in 1984. Starting in the 1990’s Dickerson also began experimenting with digital mixed media methods. Often working out of his sons’ Los Angeles recording studio, Burton Dickerson crossed paths with LA-based bands and artists. The punk band X featured his drawings during their 1992 performance on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Dickerson later created another animated music video for the enigmatic guitarist, Buckethead. In Los Angeles, his work was sought out by musicians and underground creatives. Collectors include D.J. Bonebrake (X) and the actor Viggo Mortensen.
Over four decades, Dickerson established a distinct visual language and an intense style; however, until recently his work has remained outside of mainstream attention. He turned down teaching positions at both New York University and the University of California, and notoriously destroyed many of his own pieces later in life. His surviving body of work is a remarkable example of a high modern aesthetic infused with rock-music energy and includes paintings, drawings, paper cut outs, digital media, and film.
Mr. Wilson, MTV, and the Indie LA Music Scene
Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s Dickerson’s art was inextricably linked to the music being produced in by his three sons in Los Angeles. Travis, Linden (Lindy), and Brandon (Brandy) wrote and recorded fast-paced rock music in self-built recording studios and were regulars in local clubs such as Madame Wong’s, Madame Wong’s West, FM Station, The Palomino, the Anti-Club, and others. Their band, Mr. Wilson, first featured Michael Brooks and later D.J. Bonebrake (also of X) as their drummer. Dickerson spent winters in Los Angeles for over a decade, working out of the recording studio, hanging his art there, and creating work in a range of formats that both responded to, and was inspired by, his sons’ music.
In 1984, Dickerson used a Super-8 camera to create a stop-motion recording for Mr. Wilson’s single, “Blinded By Glare,” which appeared on MTV’s Basement Tapes program. Shortly after the video aired, MTV began using a similarly styled logo and promotional clips.
The studio, still active as Travis Dickerson Recording Studios (TDRS), developed over the years as a location for local groups and independent artists, including the band X and later Buckethead. A range of musicians who visited and recorded at the studio over the next 30 years came into contact with the artwork of Burton Dickerson, whose paintings hung on the walls in the main room. In the early 1990’s DJ Bonebrake featured Dickerson’s energetic figures on his bass drum kit while X performed on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
Musicians continued to work in and around the work of Burton Dickerson well into the 2010’s and 2020s.