Mixed-media artist and photographer Cristina Burns juxtaposes dolls, toys, candies, skulls and insects in meticulously arranged patterns. Like modern day cabinets of curiosity, her brightly colored works are a playful reminder of the vanities of life. Seeing her surreal streak, it is no surprise Hieronymus Bosch ranks among her favorite artists. Cristina talks about Bosch, Alice IN WONDERLAND, her beloved Naples and much more.  


Cristina, you are American, but you were born in Spain and currently live in Italy. Even in today’s global times that sounds a little confusing. Can you tell us a bit more?

My father is American and my mother Italian. When I was born my parents were in Spain for work. When I was three, we came back to Italy where they had previously met.


Are your parents active in the artistic field? 

My father has worked for many years as a photographer and my mother has always been a poetess, designer and a lover of classical music with an innate sense of aesthetic research, not as an end in itself, but as a nourishment of the soul.


At first sight, your work seems wonderfully sweet, yet on closer inspection it is not all that innocent. Beetles, butterflies and skulls: a kind reminder that death and decay lie around the corner?

Death and decay are part of the cycle of life. Mine is a way to celebrate and exorcise death at the same time, to remember that beauty is something ephemeral.


These are old symbols. Despite the obvious “pop” character of your work might there be a Renaissance painter hiding in you somewhere?

I am very passionate about the Old Masters. I like the way they represented still life’s, making them magical and surreal at times. I also admire the way they managed light and the enormous variety of their compositions.


If there is one classic masterpiece that you could have, any one, which one would you choose, and why? 

Yes, there are several. But I choose Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. With its surrealist vein I believe it is greatly innovative for its time. And I think it is very current as well.


“See Naples and die,” they say. Why, according to you, should we see Naples before dying? 

Naples is a unique, authentic, wonderful city with strong flavors, where real life scenes are set in streets and alleyways full of history. The city is a fusion of many civilizations, where the sacred and profane alternate continuously, almost as if it was part of an enormous open-air live theater. 


All become protagonists and animated actors where no one remains a stranger. “See Naples and die:” Napels enriches you inside, which allows you to see things from a completely new perspective. 


Did you study art or anything arty? Or are you completely self-taught?  

I am a self-taught artist. I have gained my technique and style by experimenting day by day.


One of your recent series is called Through the Mirror. A hint at Through the Looking Glass? If so, why? 

Yes, in part I was inspired by Lewis Caroll’s Through the Looking Glass, mainly for the concept of the reflected image. I mirrored the assemblage giving a new identity to the objects like the novel in which everything changed on the other side of the mirror or looking glass.


Do you feel like an Alice in Wonderland?

Of course! Especially when I work and I am overwhelmed by my imagination.


Seeing the dolls, toys and candy, would you say your childhood is one of your main inspirations?

Yes, I am inspired by my childhood, especially by how I used to look at things and how certain objects fascinated me. I remember that as a child I was intrigued with illustrations in old science books and so called cabinets of curiosities.

Where do you find your props?

I adore collecting toys, skeletons, insects and forgotten objects that I find in flea markets and toyshops. I like to think that hidden behind their shape, function and purpose are their souls and a story awaits to be told, a story made up of forgotten places and unknown emotions.


What was your first big breakthrough as an artist? 

My first big breakthrough was in 2015 when I exhibited in Milan with Vogue Italia.


In Urban Fairy Tales you imagine a world without humans. Animals have taken over streets and city centers. That must have taken a lot of work.

Yes, it is a kind of work that requires some time, from the preparation of the shots to the digital manipulation. I wanted to create something in which nature revolts and wild animals suddenly appear as ghosts reclaiming contaminated urban spaces giving life to a surreal fairy tale.


What are you currently working on?

Actually, I am working on several projects like Melted where I represent a new generation of girls who, with their changes, have revolutionized the concept of beauty. I wanted to create unusual portraits in which the subject has a totally erased face yet retains a strong identity. The color that covers the face represents the essence that flows to the outside reflecting the inner life. 


Is it you in the pictures? 

Not in Melted. The models are my sisters who are twins. In the near future I am going to work on self-portraits as I did previously in my series Sweet Poison.


Some of your Through the Mirror work was recently published in the anthology Anatomy Rocks alongside 60 other contemporary artists, including Mark Ryden. He likes his sweet dark fairytales. Do you like his work?    

I have great respect for Mark Ryden. I consider him one of the best living surreal artists, and I am very glad to have been included in the Anatomy Rocks Anthology.


Any other artists in particular that you like? 

I love René Magritte, Georges Méliès, David LaChapelle and many others!


Can we admire your work somewhere in real life sometime soon?

Some of my works were recently on view at the Lemon Frame Gallery in Tel Aviv. And in June I won first prize at the Raffaele Pezzuti per l'Arte, meaning one of my works will be exhibited permanently in the Naples Metro, which is like an open air museum for international contemporary artists sponsored by the city of Naples.





PhotographyEli Rezkallah