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Painting With Fire

Many artist have a go-to tool – for painters it’s a brush, digital artists have computers, and photographers have their cameras – but for some artists, the tools are more ephemeral. As is the case with mixed media artists, there are an abundance of supplies and utensils artists can use to create uniquely personal art. One such tool is fire.

Fig 09. Major General Keith Skempton. Smoke on panel. 80cm x 60cm by Michael Fennell michaelfennell.com

Artist like Michael Fennell use candles and smoke to create their pieces. Fennell makes realistic paintings from the whisp of a flame. He has been doing so for 12 years and says that he has made it a “serious and sophisticated medium.”

Fig 06. Portrait of Sir Roger Norrington Conductor. Smoke on panel. 100cm x 80cm michaelfennell.com

Fennell explained on his website, “Smoke as a drawing medium is of course fundamentally flawed – it is tremendously volatile and a line cannot be drawn with it, but perhaps more importantly you can easily ignite your paper and burn down your studio! Smoke is a unique medium that is not drawn, painted, printed, rubbed, flicked, blown or sprayed on – so what could we say – air borne?”

Smoke art is hard to classify in one particular genre. Using smoke is similar to painting because of the nature of sweeping a flame across a page like a brush and the type of stroke it creates. But the clear issue with classifying it as a painting is the lack of paint. Mixed media is also not a perfect fit because there is no more media to the piece than the canvas it is created on; essentially an artist is burning the canvas. Perhaps smoke art should be a genre of art all on its own.

Another smoke artist, Steve Spazuk, creates large block images with soot and adds detail with traditional tools later. According to his bio, Spazuk’s, “in-the-moment creative practice coupled with the fluidity of the soot, creates a torrent of images, shadows and light. Fuelled by the quest of a perfect shape that has yet to materialize, he concentrate[s] in a meditative act and surrender[s] to capture the immediacy of the moment on canvas.”

Below is a GIF, first posted on waavedada.com, of Spazuk making art using this intriguing art form.

With fire, smoke, candle soot and engraved lines, Steven Spazuk draws and improvises brilliant portraitures. spazuk.com


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