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Canadian artist pays homage to Star Wars nostalgia

When Robert Xavier Burden was going through childhood mementos one day at his parents’ Mississauga home, he came across a box full of Star Wars figurines.

The discovery of the familiar characters like Darth Vader and Han Solo sparked an idea for what would become one of his largest and most complex works to date.

“I wanted to re-capture the way I saw these toys as a kid,” the San Francisco-based Canadian artist told CBC.  “As an adult, these things are just a piece of plastic to me now. As a boy, they were larger than life. They were magical. They were almost like sacred talismans.”

$ 200K price tag

Star Wars artwork

The 20th Century Space Opera was inspired by the artist’s nostalgia for Star Wars figurines. (Robert Xavier Burden)

Burden spent 2,000 hours of studio time over a year and a half to create a spectacular oil painting called The 20th Century Space Opera. The 2.4-metre (8 feet) tall piece, completely done by hand, began with a detailed drawing of the canvas followed by an intense layering process called underpainting, followed by intricate patterning.

“I don’t have a workshop of people helping me make these things so it requires me to be in the studio 60 to 70 hours a week,” he said.

The piece, which has a $ 200,000 US price tag, has served as a backdrop for a Star Wars-themed wedding and was also featured at a Star Wars fan convention in Anaheim, Calif., earlier this year.

“Robert’s art is both beautifully painted and nostalgic. It awakens feelings in us who saw the original movies so long ago and sparks the imagination of newer fans,” said Steve Sansweet, chief executive of Rancho Obi-Wann, a California museum dedicated to Star Wars memorabilia that was responsible for displaying Burden’s painting at the convention. 

More than nostalgia

The 20th Century Space Opera will also appear at the L.A. Art Show at the end of January. 

Robert Xavier Burden

Artist Robert Xavier Burden stands in front of his Star Wars-themed canvas at a showing of the work. (Victoria Webb Photography)

The release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens has certainly bolstered the painting’s profile, but Burden said the timing of the project’s completion was coincidental. After all, he said, honouring the film is only part of the artwork’s purpose.

“I do want my work to be about more than just nostalgia. I want it to express my love of Star Wars, but also potentially talk about other things through the irony of the work,” he said.

“Through irony, I can talk about commodity fetishism, I can talk about consumerism, materialism, Peter Pan syndrome. I can talk about idolatry. I can talk about all these things while still maintaining a love for the subject matter because it’s certainly toeing the line between fan art and fine art.”

CBC | Arts News