The Whole World’s a Canvas

For emerging artist Cynthia Burgos, who by day is an assistant director of childcare services in The Bronx, New York, a career in management was the game plan. Though her recreation of a Van Gogh painting in her senior year art class had elicited praise from her professor and sparked a creative flame, Burgos had dismissed her potential as beginner’s luck. She says, “I thought I had a hidden talent and I knew I could do it, but I didn’t embrace it.”

After several years living in Europe, Burgos returned to the U.S. when her marriage ended in 2002. To help lift left her out of her emotional doldrums, a friend gave Burgos $600 to purchase art supplies and urged her to try her hand at painting. Her passion reignited, Burgos began to work on commission and by inspiration. “There was a part of me that wanted to express myself through art,” she says. She received validation when her first piece, a 3-foot image of a powerful woman against the shadowy backdrop of a bar scene, sold for $250. “I was elated!” she remembers.

Burgos chose to work with acrylic paint because of its ease of use, then began adding different textures such as varnish and heavy oils. She paints on cardboard, wood, or linen canvas, but says, “Anything that inspires me can be my canvas, even baskets and lampshades.” The use of texture such as paper, sand, and glitter is central to her work, and she often pares down or reconstructs elemental pieces. She sources materials and inspiration from anywhere she can, including travel, thrift shops, flea markets, and her daily environment. “I discover and use what already exists and make it my own.”

In 2009 Burgos’ art career received a boost when she was invited to contribute to an exhibit in Harlem celebrating the birthday of Barack Obama. Several pieces from that exhibition were included in another series titled “From Slavery to Presidency,” at the Melville Gallery in New York City’s South Street Seaport Museum. More recently, Burgos’ work is currently showing at the Adam Clayton Powell State Building in Harlem commemorating Oprah Winfrey’s 25th anniversary in television. Portraits of Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, and Etta Jones are her most recent work for a jazz series currently showing at the Rye Arts Center in Rye, New York.

To date Burgos has had seven gallery exhibits in addition to fundraising events for the Boys and Girls Club. She also hopes to open an art gallery that exposes community children to various creative art forms. “I still love working with children, but my painting feeds my passion for art. This feels like a spiritual calling and a connection to something outside myself. It’s a different satisfaction from what I get from my day job.”