Randy Burman’s socially charged artwork is in little danger of taking itself too seriously.
“Other kids would be drawing bombers and jet fighters in their notebooks,” Randy Burman recalls of his teenage years in the 1960s. “I would be drawing storefronts.” Likewise, the glossy magazine pages tacked to his bedroom wall weren’t torn from Playboy; they were the then-groundbreaking advertisements from Alka-Seltzer and Volkswagen. Burman was fascinated with how their visual and typographical elements came together and hooked a viewer’s mind. “There was never any question what I would grow up to do,” he laughs.
Sure enough, Burman is currently the creative director and co-owner of one of Miami’s foremost graphic design firms, Ikon Communication and Marketing Design, crafting logos and advertising for a host of organizations and companies, from the Greater Miami Jewish Federation to Snapple. Yet the last decade has also seen Burman dive into the art world, becoming an inventive conceptualist with his work featured at the Frost Art Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art, as well as installed guerilla-style all over town. If there’s a common thread between his disparate pieces—from Vent-o- Matic, billed as “a cathartic public health service,” which allowed people to wing shoes at images of a host of controversial public figures, to Possessed, which gleefully transformed chilling historical photos into selfie-ready backdrops—it’s Burman’s wry take on politicking. The topics may be weighty, but his tone is never didactic and his language is always directed beyond the art world sandbox so many of his peers are content to play within. “I do tackle serious subjects, but I like to subvert it with a sense of humor,” Burman explains.
The key, he adds, turning to one of his citywide projects for the O, Miami Poetry Festival last month, is to utilize the same approach with his art pieces as with his design work. “What is their objective? What are they trying to do?” he muses. “A lot of time clients know what they want to say, but they have no idea how to communicate with an audience. In the case of the annual O, Miami, the mission is to have everyone in Miami-Dade County exposed to a poem. So why not put the poems right on the street in the form of street signs?” The signs in question mirrored Burman’s playful spirit, looking authentic and only raising eyebrows upon closer reading: thou shall not yield; until further notice never; do not feed the tourists who feed alligators who eat tourists which is bad for tourism. Call it a Groucho Marxist attack on the mundanity of everyday life.
Of course, even if Burman could have gotten legal permission to install bootleg street signs, he then would have had to wade through a sea of zoning strictures as to where exactly they could be placed. “The best way to do it is to hide in plain sight,” he says of what came next. “We looked just like regular city workers. Our shirts had a county seal on them and read department of poetry works on the back. A couple of people would walk by and ask, ‘The county really has a department of poetry?’ But other than being told to leave the Miami Zoo”—a security guard was amused, but all too aware of which crews were authorized to do maintenance work near the animals—“we never had any incidents whatsoever.” In fact, many of those signs still remain in place, from Wynwood to Hialeah, bringing comic relief to folks in search of a parking space as they spy $50 fine for failure to read this sign.
“When I sell work, it’s always a surprise— that’s not the point at all,” Burman continues. “What I’m really concerned with is how people are going to react. And that goes back to my graphic design skills… If people aren’t going to react, there’s no purpose in doing it.”
Which raises a few questions about his latest piece, The Future of Print, featured in the “Spin Cycle” group show currently at Little Haiti’s Laundromat Art Space (yes, a former Laundromat transformed into an avant garde art complex). The Future of Print contradicts almost everything Burman has explained about his driving ethos: A mini-skyscraper built out of chopped-up samples from the past 30 years of his design work, it is literally a summation of his professional career. Yet, oddly, viewers will have no idea what this carefully lashed-together structure is actually made of—or the material’s intimate connection to the artist who assembled it. They’ll simply see grids of clashing colors rising before them.
“It’s a very personal piece,” Burman says with a chuckle, “but all the observer will appreciate is the aesthetic value this massed matrix represents. Just like today’s newspaper is tomorrow’s recycling, it’s almost a joke on myself!” Give Burman credit. Like any truly talented satirist, he’s not afraid to aim his sharpest barbs squarely at the mirror. The Future of Print is currently on view at the Laundromat Art Space, 5900 NE Second Ave., Miami, 303-960-7810