Senior Art & Design – Fumation / Smoke Painting
Some of our Year 11 and 12 students had great fun this week experimenting with smoke painting – a soot, candlelight and burning technique that captures interesting shapes and tones that almost seem to dance and flicker across the paper.
We had initially seen the series of works of missing children by local artist, Diane Victor: “The technique embodies the situation extremely well, missing children becoming ephemeral ghosts, flickering into life and fading back into the soot they are made from.” This inspired us to research further and discover that the father of smoke painting is Mexican / German artist, Wolfgang Paalen, who in the late 1930s often embellished his work (The Messenger,1941), emphasising images and shapes using several thin layers of oil paint or acrylic, whilst some artists use charcoal, gouache, coloured pencils and oil pastels. A technique that was presumably discovered by our early cave dwellers, some 40 000 or more years ago and re-discovered and adopted by us later on.
Salvador Dalí (Autumnal Cannibalism, 1936) also used smoke painting (or sfumage, as he coined it) on canvas and wet oil paint in his surreal style of artwork – a variation we still need to try.
It was Stephen Spazuk who demonstrated his smoke and direct facial transfer technique that inspired and left our students, Milla and Keenan’s model, Lene, all black and sooty whilst creating a self-portrait and portrait profile study. Spazuk’s most recent and disturbing series, Ornithocide, features live and dead birds juxtaposed with various man-made devices designed to kill insects, and leaves us questioning the threat we pose to the planet and living systems, including ourselves, as we poison insects, to seemingly cleanse our homes and protect our crops.
It was also fascinating to see Sheila Gallagher’s work – she painstakingly combined numerous cut stencils she had made to mask, smoke and create a life-sized rhinoceros work of art.
Keenan also experimented with another subtractive version of the technique – removing areas of soot with a putty eraser, adding extra details where necessary. This style of work needs to be handled carefully and fixed by applying a charcoal-fixative spray, whilst safety measures obviously need to be taken into consideration whilst creating the works of art.
Mrs Lynda Leibbrandt, Snr Art & Design