Dirty vans are proving to be perfect canvas

Artist Rob Burden creates his illustrations on dirty vehicles. Seen here is Hollywood silver screen icon Gary Cooper.
Artist Rob Burden creates his illustrations on dirty vehicles. Seen here is Hollywood silver screen icon Gary Cooper.
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Famous faces have been appearing on the sides of dirty vans after an urban artist took a job as a bus driver in the county.

Rob Burden has created four portraits in dirt on vans in Kettering since he started driving the X4 Stagecoach bus from the town in June.

Mr Burden, 39, said: “It’s about turning something ugly into something beautiful.”

By wiping away the dirt to produce highlights Mr Burden has ‘sketched’ silver screen idol Gary Cooper on a van at the junction of London Road and Pytchley Road, actor James Dean on a bus at his depot in Northampton Road, which has been washed off, and a model photographed by a famous photographer in a van in flats near the parish church, which was washed off by rain.

Mr Burden, who lives in Wigston, Leicestershire, started sketching a portrait of guitarist Carlos Santana on a van in a road off London Road, but the angry owner ordered him away. However, the owner of the Gary Cooper van was delighted and offered Mr Burden a beer.

The artist said: “I would just like people to know I’m doing a little bit of art and I’m not going to damage the vehicle in any way.

“I’m just playing around in the dirt. If I see a dirty van I can’t resist it.”

The portraits, which are copied from black and white photographs, take between half and three quarters of an hour to produce.

Mr Burden creates larger areas of light on the faces by wiping away the dirt with a paper towel, uses paint brushes to create dappled or shaded areas and uses a pencil covered with masking tape for fine details. He takes great care not to scratch the vehicle’s bodywork.

Driving around the county in his bus gives Mr Burden plenty of opportunities to spot new canvases.

He first started his dirt van portraits in 2005 when working as a van courier in London. While waiting for jobs he would amuse others by sketching on the vans in the yard. Since then he has created between 170 and 200 portraits around the country.

As a teenager he spray painted graffiti until he was caught and cautioned by police. Street artists like Banksy, Ben Long and Cristo inspire Mr Burden, as does music. For details visit www.robertburden.co.uk.