Born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1944, Richard Burnside moved to South Carolina when he was a child. He has held various jobs throughout his life, ranging from store clerk to chef. He married twice, for brief periods, and has two children from each marriage. He now lives in Pendleton, South Carolina.
Burnside likes to create an Africanized mythology from biblical stories, folktales, and even nursery rhymes. The works' titles often identify the subjects as kings, queens, and priests. His paintings are stylized interpretations of things he has seen, from works of art to objects of daily life. He personalizes what he sees in much the same manner that Mose Tolliver creates fanciful creatures from ordinary print sources. Most of Burnside's works incorporate a group of independent but related forms, each with heavy outlines, dot patterns, and bright colors against a solid background. Generally included in the composition are numerous mask-like faces.
The Man Behind the Eight Ball includes letters of the alphabet turned into a network of strange glyphs (with an exclamation point added). The Faces is an adaptation of drinking mug shapes. The Three Crosses resembles disposable razors, clotheslines, and telephone poles. "I just see things and then lock them up in my head," Burnside explained once to a visiting art collector.