Feeling humbled by BBC4 programme on Burra - brilliant artist despite crippling RA

Feeling humbled by BBC4 programme on Burra - brilliant artist despite crippling RA

It's amazing how having RA makes you look at the world through a different lens. Just watched programme on Edward Burra, an artist whose work I've always liked without knowing much about the man. Now I discover he had RA from early age - just seeing his deformed hands holding a paint brush makes me want to weep. Apparently he always wore very thick socks and big shoes - well we know why don't we! And when war broke out he scoured his town buying up aspirin. Can you imagine not just being without all the modern medicine, but not even having painkillers? And he produced incredible work, which I now look at again thinking about how he must have really been a strong person to be that creative, and I understand more about the hint of bitterness/anger that weaves through some of his work and the sense of him being a watcher of life not a participant.

When I went to the Watercolours exhibition in the summer there was a comment in the catalogue about several artists turning to watercolour because of arthritis making it difficult to work in oils. So RA has all sorts of potential effects.

I just wonder whether there can be a small and hard won reward from RA, in that it slows you down and makes you think more as you can't move as well, and focuses your perception as have no energy for things that don't mean much to you. I'm about as artistic as a bean, but even I now make rather ugly felt as helps my hands to massage wool in warm water.

Any artists out there who think RA has changed their art?


(ps - if you like his work there's an exhib in Chicester till next Feb)

7 Replies

Hi HelixHelix, I didn't see the programme but as an amateur artist myself, I work in acrylics, water colours and pen & ink. Acrylics can be diluted down with water to make them more like water colours or can be used quite thickly for emphasis.

I was at an Artist in Residence demo last night and he also has arthritis in his hands but uses the brush sideways on rather than held between finger and thumb like a pen as apparently it is much easier that way and gives just as much control when your fingers are painful. (His pictures sell for many thousands of pounds so clearly RA has affected him much).

I have found art very relaxing even though my fingers do get stiff after a couple of hours particularly if using pencil or pen and ink. I concentrate so hard that my shoulders end up aching as well so have to have a stretch and massage my fingers. I put my hands into cold water as that seems to help me more than warm does. Each to his own.

Lovely blog,. LavendarLady x


Thanks for this Polly.

I knew about the exhibition but not the programme. And I certainly didn't know that he had RA. People struggle with such things don't they.

Since I retired (from teaching) about three years ago, I've taken a series of classes at the college of art here in Edinburgh. I love it and have been quite happy with the progress I'm making. I feel so relaxed and fulfilled after losing myself in drawing or painting. But as Lavender Lady says, there are limitations. I find it hard to work at an easel, standing for too long and stretching out my arms is too tiring. And so that means that working big isn't on. In particular I've found it hard to do something like figure drawing because you need to keep an eye firmly on the figure while you're drawing while also the drawing itself! And that's unfortunate because its one of the central skills to develop.

But there's quite a lot of lovely small art being made, and I've found that sketching at the bottom of a mountain while my partner climbs it, is one way of getting in to nature. I miss it so much.

Having said this, I was out at Aberlady - East Lothian coast - on Sunday and practising for my latest class - digital photography, and took a lovely photograph of the sandbar and the migrating birds. Photography is another good thing to develop- oh yes and has anyone tried Brushes on an i-pad? Its quite a good way of doing sketches and David hockney has made some lovely pieces using this.

Will load up i-player now to look at the Burra - many thanks,



Well humbled, How people of old got by on just aspirin or no pain killers at all is beyond me, but then to go on to be brilliant artists ,inspirational. When them flare ups start I will think of him and remember we are lucky to live in this age of modern medicine.


yes we are very lucky!


Enjoyed reading the blog -- we have a lot to be thankful for.



Thank you so much for sharing information about this artist, and about the documentary! I am eager to learn more. I paint in acrylics, and I find that though sometimes I get extra stiff and tired after painting, while I am painting, I'm pretty well transcending all that physical stuff and just lost in the colors. It is such a good therapy for me. Good luck to you in your felting. I am sure it's not ugly. Anything that helps you express yourself creatively and relieve your pain at the same time can only be described as beautiful!


I love art, wished I had studied it at school instead of following social sciences- a path my dad wanted me to pursue. The wonderful (!) thing with having r.a. and not being able to work is that i can rediscover art. I enjoy felting as well. Perhaps we could have a picture gallery to share our work of arts!


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