Written by: Emily Sabens, Public Relations Intern


Roger Brown. Burners, Burglars, and Beaters, 1992. Oil on canvas. 48 x 72 inches. David Owsley Museum of Art. 2005.012.000 © The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Brown family

“Burglars, Beaters, and Burners” by Roger Brown depicts the famous Los Angeles riots. In 1992, riots broke out in Los Angeles County, California. Anger was ignited when four police officers were found not guilty after severely beating Rodney King.

During the previous year, King was on parole for robbery. He led police on a high-speed chase throughout the city. When police were able to stop him, they ordered King out of the car. The four officers then kicked him repeatedly and hit him with their batons––which was caught on camera from a bystander. King suffered permanent brain damage, skull fractures and broken bones and teeth.

A year later, a jury found the four officers (three of whom were white) not guilty of beating King, who was black. Almost immediately, riots broke out in Los Angeles. Motivated by years of racial inequality, individuals began to set fires, robbed stores and started violent fights.

The riots continued for six days. More than 2,000 people were injured and over 50 lost their lives. Over 1,000 buildings were damaged, resulting in more than $1 billion worth of damage.

Brown was one of the leading members of the Chicago Imagists, a group of artists who created bold works that explore the U.S. in the postwar era. His works were daring and often contained political commentary, specifically when it came to civil rights.

Painted during the same year the riots broke out, Brown depicts the robberies, beatings and fires that happened in Los Angeles in this painting. This work is a perfect example of Brown’s funky and colorful style; his inspiration stemmed from comic books and Southern folk art, rather than traditional works of fine art.

Visit the David Owsley Museum of Art today to see “Burners, Burglars, and Beaters,” located upstairs in the Ball Brothers Foundation Gallery.