How art helped the former 500 GP racer get his life back on track

During a top-flight motocross career that stretched for almost 15 years, former 500 GP racer Christian Burnham earned a reputation for being a fierce fighter on the track but since he retired in 2005 he’s had to call on this fortitude again to win an even bigger battle.

The 47-year-old’s fight with alcohol addiction is no secret but he’s now been sober for over six years and art has become an essential part of his ongoing recovery.

Christian’s paintings are amazing. Working in the evenings after knocking off from his day job as a carpenter, his portrait of Andre Malherbe took a couple of months to finish following a painstaking process. First he replicated a photograph of the three-time world champion using Photoshop and Illustrator computer programmes before cutting templates and using spray paints to create the finished artwork. 

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“When I was a young teenager I was really into the ’80s hip hop scene,” he said, “and that’s when graffiti really started taking off and I was into that and skateboarding and stuff but because of motocross I never actually did anything with it.

“I’ve always been really creative but I guess I had my outlet with racing and then, after I retired, really quickly I developed an alcohol problem which was so severe in the end it nearly killed me. I went into rehab for a long time and while there I met a Belgian artist who introduced me to this technique. 

“In one way it’s a way of expressing myself – a lot of the paintings you can see what stage of my life I was in when I was doing them – but it’s also been therapy. Since I’ve come out of rehab it’s given me something to focus on.”

Christian has been based in Belgium almost exclusively since 1991 when he started racing GPs. His most successful season was 1999 when he scored moto podiums at Hawkstone Park and in Sweden on his way to 10th in the world. He also won a number of German titles over the course of his career and raced for the Italian VOR factory in Y2K.

Following a long break from the sport, he made a comeback at the 2019 VMXdN which rekindled his love for motocross and he was aiming to be back this season before COVID intervened.

“Since I rode at Farleigh last year I really got into it again and I wanted to get a bit more prepared so I could go and race properly instead of pulling holeshots and then fading away. Everything got put on hold but I’m still aiming for next year.”

Christian’s currently working on a portrait of Danny Chandler but is remaining tight-lipped about his future projects ahead of a planned exhibition at next year’s VMXdN.

“It’s grown into just as big a passion for me as motocross. When I had nothing to paint I ended up drawing on the kitchen table. I love doing it and I’m not into it for money. Obviously, making a living out of something you love doing is great but I’ve been lucky enough to do that once in my life already.”

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