In a truly romantic tale, artist Steven Spazuk says that the idea to paint using flames came to him in a dream. After his first attempt—which resulted in a page burnt to a crisp—he became obsessed with perfecting the technique. From there, he started using a Zippo lighter along with candles and torches, and used heavier card stock; now his name is synonymous with the concept of fumage—or fire art.
Despite the seemingly extreme medium, Spazuk’s artworks are remarkably delicate and tenderly created. From the wispy hairs of a subject’s beard to a bird’s soft down, he manages to create subtle detail and the results are quite exquisite. He explains, “The flame always reacts to the air displacement, so I can’t control it. However, I can guide my lighter and the flame to create more or less the shape I want to create. Sometimes, I just let the flame do the work and create these magical forms.”
While he uses feathers and paintbrushes to finish his pieces, one of Spazuk’s most important tools is his Zippo lighter. He tells us, “The flame is something that truly inspires my art, and the Zippo lighter has always been a part of my toolbox. To me, it is both a muse and a tool…The idea of having the images coming from the lighter came to me very quickly, and I wanted to show that beauty emanates from this iconic object.”
To shine a light on unconventional art, the team visited Spazuk in his Montreal studio to film the artist at work. In the newly released video, Spazuk explains his unique artistic approach and we get an incredible insight into his process.
Of course, even though Spazuk is well-practiced, working with flame can be tricky (it’s not wise to try this at home). He tells us, “The difference between a great fumage drawing and bad one can come down to a matter of seconds. You need to understand when to stop—it is a matter of artistic instinct.” And despite fire generally being seen as a destructive force, Spazuk (unsurprisingly) sees things differently.
“Fire is a great metaphor for humans,” he says. “Like fire, we are capable of great power, warmth and energy but also capable of destruction… Drawing with fire captures infinite moments and gives me joy. The flame itself is a symbol of history—an untameable and unpredictable medium which has fascinated humans for centuries. The process is mesmerizing! Every flicker of a flame or brush of hair holds a different story.”
Considering Spazuk’s immense energy and passion, it makes sense that he is wildly fond of his Zippo lighter. “I’ve always been a Zippo fan, ever since I got my first lighter back in art school when I was 17. It’s been in my toolbox since day one.”
Spazuk and Zippo collaborated on a special, limited edition lighter which is available online for $37.
Images and video courtesy of Zippo