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The Artist Who Paints With Fire

Steven Spazuk’s flame-powered technique is inspired by 1930s Surrealists.

Artist Steven Spazuk sets his paintings on fire. Usually that’s the sign of something being destroyed, but not in Spazuk’s case. Instead, he is employing the art of fumage, a technique popularized by Surrealist painters in the 1930s, that uses fire like paint. Using the soot an open flame leaves behind on the paper, Spazuk explains on his website, he “sculpt[s] the plumes of soot to render shapes and light” using brushes and feathers.

In an interview with Slate, Spazuk said he started experimenting with the technique after a dream. “I was in a gallery [in my dream] and was looking at that black and white landscape and I knew that it was done with fire and completely understood the technique,” he said. “That was in April of 2001, and I have been working with fire ever since.”

This unconventional technique produces an element of unpredictability in Spazuk’s work, something that intrigues him even more. As he says on his website, fire, and its ability to be “both a constructive and destructive force is a constant factor in my creations.”

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