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Tony Burns: Artist

Creative Conversations

By Carolyn Males + Photos by Godseye Studios

Have a special artistic talent? Step into LOCAL Life’s and the Hilton Head Island Office of Cultural Affairs’ Creative Conversations spotlight. Go to to apply.

Tuesday through Saturday you can find Tony Burns wielding scissors, clippers, and combs at Major League Barbershop & Beauty Salon in Bluffton, which he owns with business partner, Alex Brown.

But in his off hours, he’s likely to be standing in front of an easel on a paint-splattered floor, surrounded by tubes of acrylics and oils, stroking a brush across a canvas. Once he enters his garage studio and clicks on his music (anything but classical), he steps into what he calls his “quiet zone.”

[Q] You’ve only just recently become a professional artist. [TB] I’ve only been painting for about three years. I’m self-taught. I did some work in the first home I bought, and some of my family had seen it. They would say, “I didn’t know you could do that! Why don’t you pursue it?” At the time, being busy in the barbershop, I just felt like I didn’t have time.

But then one of my uncles challenged me and said, “You need to do something with this talent.” So I bought some materials, locked myself in a room and said, “I’m going to learn how to do this thing.” I watched a lot of YouTube videos and studied artists like Ernie Barnes.

With each painting, I got better and better. Then I posted a piece on Facebook and someone said, “I’ll buy it from you.” So that’s how it started, and ever since then it’s been exploding. I have so much commission work. I’ve also been doing paint parties, live painting demonstrations — you name it, I’m doing it.

[Q] Why this mid-life venture? [TB] Art has been my passion ever since I was a kid. I’d get the comic section of the newspaper and go into my room and draw characters like Beetle Bailey and Charlie Brown. And in school while the teacher was talking, I’d always be doodling. All the kids would say, “He’s in the back of the class drawing again.” I’d look at kids, sketch them, give it to them, and make them laugh.

Over the years I got busy and further away from it, but I’d always keep a sketchpad and would make charcoal and graphite drawings.

[Q] Barbering became your main career. Do you find any similarities between styling hair and painting? [TB] Barbering takes the same type of eye that you have as a painter for putting down each stroke, each line. You have this canvas –– the client’s hair or head –– and you have in your mind where you want it to get to. And the more you do it, the better you become.

[Q] How do you balance your dual careers? [TB] It’s hard because I don’t have enough time to do everything I want to do. It’s like art is trying to pull me away. But I love the barbershop. I love meeting everybody and being active, and it has me tight-knit with the community. So that’s my thing.

[Q] What inspires you to paint? [TB] I paint Black culture, anybody from the past, anything dealing with my people and the era I grew up in, and from recent times. I do a lot of portraits. My inspiration could come from me looking around and thinking that would make a good painting. Or it could be today’s events. Or if someone great passes away, I’ll do a tribute painting: Prince, Aretha Franklin, rappers like Biggie Smalls, Tupac. The greats sell quickly.

[Q] When you speak at school career days, what kind of advice do you offer to anyone who wants to pursue artmaking? [TB] I wish I’d had the advantage of going to art school, but it wasn’t available for me at the time. I don’t think that will hold you back because you still have to put the paint on the canvas. Art is in the eye of the beholder. Some people may not like what I paint, but I have an audience that loves it. And I’ve just scratched the surface of my potential — and I’m making money doing it.

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The Adverbial World of

Your profile says that you are quite.
It also states you can be very. Sometimes even very very.
In addition, I see that you are partly and slightly,
not to mention mostly, though you did mention it nine times.
Thanks for writing, but I’m looking
for someone who’s extremely.
I also have a soft spot in my heart for highly,
but there I’ll try to compromise.
One place, however, I will not bend.
You mention several times you never.
Forgive me, please, I’d like someone
who at least occasionally.
And frankly, even at my age,
I wouldn’t mind a mate who often.

— Barry Dickson