French-Canadian fumage aficionado Steven Spazuk is an artist out of Montreal that has gained considerable recognition with his beautiful works. Fumage is a technique in which the artist uses fire and smoke to form wispy, deeply monochromatic tones and imagery.
Steven has been dubbed "The Fire Artist" (even collaborating with the iconic Zippo lighter brand) as a result of his proficiency in this style of composition. Many see the almost ethereal nature of his gorgeous works as far more than just some simple novelty. Some of history's greatest surrealists like Salvador Dali (one of Steven's inspirations) have dabbled in fumage and the results are momentous representations of the legitimacy of the technique.
The charred paper leaves a very distinct image that is difficult to replicate using more "orthodox" methods. This in turn gives the pieces a brand of authenticity that is both admirable and aesthetically pleasing. As with many disciplines, I am intrigued by the symbolism such a practice entails. For this reason, I decided to reach out to speak with Steven about his work, dreams, and the symbolic potential of fumage art.
Prox: You’ve stated previously that the idea for this kind of painting came from a dream. How often do you receive inspiration from your dreams? Is there a process that you used to acquire this ability?
Steven: Often, the best creative ideas occur while we’re sleeping. Dreams can be a rich source of inner wisdom, and they can be useful, we should try to listen to them. Surrealist painter Salvador Dali has called many of his works “hand-painted dream photographs” and one of his most famous renderings was inspired by an actual dream. With the imagery of melting clocks in Persistence of Memory. I once read from Dali his trick to remember his dreams, it is very simple, you need to keep your eyes shut when you wake up and you can go back in your dream and remember it… and I still do it, most of the time.
Prox: Have you tried burning difference substances for your paintings? Is it possible for different canisters to produce different signatures and aesthetics?
Steven: No, not really. Most of the time I use a candle or a torch, but recently I have been using a Zippo lighter directly as a tool to draw. There is this artist, Robert Tarbell, who burns celluloid to create his fumage paintings. It is very interesting, but much too toxic for me. Pretty much anything that you burn goes up in smoke with black carbon.
Prox: Besides the obvious danger of dealing with flammable material, what are some other hazards that come along with this kind of painting? Do you ever get sick from the fumes?
Steven: There is no danger in this practice if you are careful. Of course it should not be used by children without any adult supervision ;-)
I've never had any huge accidents. The only “accident” was having a drop of wax fall into my eye. No damage was done but let me tell you that I was really scared… And no I never get sick from the fumes because the fumes are extinguished as soon as the stroke of smoke is produce.
Prox: What are some elements that are produced by this style of drawing that are difficult to replicate with other techniques?
Steven: I really love the voluptuous random shapes created by the reaction of the flame touching the canvas. Those shapes are hard to do otherwise. You could try to reproduce smoke and clouds with an airbrush, the subtle grey tones and organic shapes are quite delicate…I think drawing smoke with actual smoke is the best way to do it… I use bird feathers to draw birds, not only does it make sense, it makes it more realistic.
Prox: Is there anything special about fire for you from a symbolic perspective? Why do you think so many people are fascinated with it and your work?
Steven: Fire to me is so inspiring. Fire consumes, warms, and illuminates, but can also bring pain and death; thus, its symbolic meaning varies wildly, depending upon the context of its use. I mostly use it to talk about life’s fragility. Exploring this fragility is the very essence of my work as a fire artist. The soot depot on paper is extremely fragile, it can easily be altered by any contact. Anything that brushes or touches the soot will leave its trace… That medium is now part of me. It sort of defines me as an artist. I came to be associated with fire and for that reason it serves me to talk about "burning” issues… issues that go up in smoke like life and endangered species. The quality of the medium itself inspires and informs the subjects of my work. The transparence, fluidity, heat, unpredictability, plasticity and depth of the soot all affect the images I create. Its association with fire as both a constructive and destructive forces is a constant factor in my creations...
I think that we are all universally fascinated by fire, there is something mesmerizing about a flickering flame, so to see someone using it to draw and create images from it makes it even more fascinating.
Prox: Who are some of your favorite artists, business people, creatives or intellectuals?
Steven: I am a big fan of Chuck Close… Younger Dali was my favorite artist…Now there are so many great artists that inspire me…My favorite people are my love ones, they have always been a great support. To me those are the most important people you need to be successful in the pursuit of happiness. Especially Danielle, my love, my wife, she has been a great source of influence and a great boost of positive energy…
Elon Musk, Al Gore, David Suzuki, Albert Jacquard, Hubert Reeves… and I could go on and on.
Prox: Favorite Hobbies?
Steven: Bird watching, trekking.
Prox: Tips for aspiring artists?
Steven: Never stop doing what you believe in, never do something unrelated to your goals…persevere and ALWAYS stay true to yourself cause authenticity never lies.
Prox: Information on upcoming projects and releases?
Steven: A solo show at Adelson Galleries in Boston, opening soon on the 7th of April.
Prox: Final Thoughts?
Steven: Thank you again for the interest in my work and for wanting to share it with your readers…no final thoughts, got to go back and work. Ciao.
You can learn more about Steven and support his work, here.
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