The creative mind behind “Hopper Happens”
Kris Burns’ office, up a narrow flight of stairs at the Hopper House in Nyack, was once the bedroom of the artist Edward Hopper. It is claustrophobically small, leading one to wonder how a bed could possibly have fit there.
Not that Burns needs much space. The art center’s artist-in-residence has a desk, a laptop and a chair, and surrounds herself with all sorts of ephemera and tchotchkes, items to jog the creativity as she seeks to celebrate Nyack’s most-famous son.
This week, Burns kicks off “Hopper Happens,” the second annual celebration that turns Nyack into a multimedia canvas.
Hopper’s creations will adorn storefronts, be projected onto buildings and find their way into businesses across the village. Smartphone-savvy strollers will be able to scan QR codes and watch videos that put them in Hopper’s shoes, on the very spot that inspired the artist, whose North Broadway birthplace is now an art center. There will be films by artists Hopper inspired.
“I’m trying to encourage people to get off the street and go into the store, not knowing when they’re going to encounter Hopper images and my photographs. They have to be vigilant and aware of their surroundings,” Burns says.
Here are 10 things you might like to know about Nyack’s Kris Burns.
1. She grew up on Staten Island and studied at Manhattan’s School of Visual Arts.
2. When she was 21, she and a girlfriend bought one-way tickets to Italy.
“We didn’t speak Italian, had no itinerary and lived there for a year,” she says. “We were nannies in Rome and worked our way to Naples, where we lived for a month.”
3. She moved to Nyack 20 years ago, when her husband, Tom Burns, got a job teaching English at Nyack High School. They have a daughter, Sadie, 17, and son, Eamon, 15.
4. She’s a night owl.
“Nyack comes alive at dusk. Dusk is really an exciting time. If I were up at dawn, I’d probably find that exciting, too. I’m not up for dawn. But the light at dusk is different. There’s something electric. Red is a different red.”
5. She’s a fan of Sufjan Stevens, an independent folk artist.
“His music is orchestral and cinematic. He’s a storyteller and I use some of his music in my videos.”
6. She loves graffiti.
“It kind of mirrors what I’m trying to do with ‘Hopper Happens.’ It’s on the street, it’s public, it’s accessible to everybody in a language that makes sense to a broad audience. It’s not about pretense. It’s about provoking your curiosity in the middle of your day. You encounter it unexpectedly. If I were somebody who cared less about authority, I’d probably be doing graffiti.”
7. She once had a studio in Orangeburg’s Udelco Building.
“I fell in love with that building and the time of day passing there. I made a video of how I loved Naples, called ‘Naples Is a State of Mind,’ and I kind of found Naples in the Udelco Building.” (Watch it here.)
8. She samples Hopper, taking something he created and appropriating it in a way to give it new meaning for a contemporary audience, but her artwork is usually photographs of things falling apart. “Things are so beautiful as they fall apart. It’s rust and ruin and the passing of time.”
9. She’s drawn to Hopper’s ability to capture moments of life, what she calls “the extraordinary ordinary.”
“I feel he’s capturing either the moment before you’re about to pick up a pen and write that poem or the moment you’ve laid down the pen to contemplate what you just wrote. It’s that time in between the creative process.”
10. She recently discovered that her grandmother and great grandmother were artists.
“My grandmother studied illustration and was a painter in Brooklyn, but then she married a fireman and had six kids and never pursued that. My great grandmother was a writer, but also a painter. She had a salon and taught porcelain painting in her house in Brooklyn. She would paint tiny birds. You could send away for a kit and she’d send you details of how to paint a certain scene on a porcelain plate. But mainly she was a writer and had to try to make a living because she was a single mom. I had lost all of this history, but recently inherited all of these drawings and letters and short stories. I found these love letters and correspondence and it really tells the story of women trying to be artists and mothers and how that didn’t really go hand in hand.
“I think they would be really happy to know that their paintings were in Hopper’s bedroom. There is poetic justice in the fact that their paintings and letters and watercolors ended up in this historic place. They didn’t get to be artists in their lifetimes, but they ended up in this museum, in my tiny office, to inspire me.”