“Storm” by Stephen Burt. Courtesy of Stephen Burt and Zero Station Gallery.

As J.E. Paterak was hanging work by Scarborough artist Stephen Burt for a solo exhibition at Zero Station Gallery in Portland, she saw the modern world on her walls.

Burt’s scenes have a historic quality to them because he draws much of his technique from Old Masters such as Leonardo da Vinci. But the raging storms Paterak saw in “Maelstrom” made her think of epic flooding that was happening at that very moment in Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey. And the flames of “Fire and Water” reminded her of the wildfires that had devastated Maui just weeks before.

“It’s about nature, but it’s not just a snapshot of nature,” said Paterak. “It’s something beyond that.”

Burt, 61, teaches art at the University of New England and has been working in Maine for more than 20 years. He focuses largely on drawing and printmaking and is a member of the printmaking collaborative Peregrine Press in Portland.

The artist described his work as a warning that feels more urgent than ever.

“You just have to look around the world right now,” he said. “There’s floods. There’s fires. It’s exponentially worse than it was even 10 years ago. I’m hoping that by highlighting this in my work that I can call people’s attention to the beauty that’s within the world and give people the want to protect it a little bit more.”


He hopes to strike a tone that is both cautionary and hopeful.

“The horizons are usually open, and you can see little bits of light,” he said. “I like to see them as both a warning and also, we’ve still got a chance.”

Paterak said even the smallest drawings in the exhibition – not much bigger than a postcard – convey a feeling of power.

“You are reminded that you are small and the world is big, and there is this blind sense of awe,” she said.

A detail shot of “Maelstrom” by Stephen Burt. Courtesy of Stephen Burt and Zero Station Gallery.

Burt’s feeling of urgency is also personal. In 2016, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a brain disorder that can cause tremors, stiffness and difficulty with balance and coordination. He was concerned about how the symptoms would eventually impact the precise lines of his artwork, and he found that he had to concentrate harder to make every mark on the page. He started trading a pen for a paintbrush, which he found slightly easier to control. In 2022, he had deep brain stimulation surgery, which relieved much of the tremors and stiffness that had developed over time.

“It was a game changer in terms of what I’m able to do again,” he said. “I feel more of an urgency to get my work out there these days. You don’t know how long this will work. It can work 10 to 15 years. It can work less than that.”

His diagnosis prompted him to take up boxing, and regular training sessions at the Portland Boxing Club have not only helped his strength but also given him an outlet. He also started practicing calligraphy, and his Instagram account is interspersed with bits of wisdom he has written out in deliberate letters.

Right now, Burt has turned his attention to reinterpreting a tarot deck with nature motifs such as birds and flowers. But his intention is the same, even if the format is different.

“I’m trying to again turn people’s thoughts back to nature in a substantial way,” he said.

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