Zachary Aronson: Walking the Line of Fire
written by Katie McGarigle
In nature, the act of destruction is a form of creation. There is an enviable amount of self-control that dictates whether one can harness the destructive nature of the elements to create something new entirely, and Zachary Aronson seems to have done just that. Aronson utilizes fire to create portraits that explore concepts of identity and anonymity. Not only is Aronson a visual artist, but he is also a performance artist, combining his talent for the visual as well as the theatrical. Fire is brimming with poetic imagery, and seeing someone know how to control the uncontrollable is art in itself.
Aronson describes his transition to performance art and pyrography as an “accident” that occurred through the process of creative collaboration and self-discovery. He originally started working with graphite on wood, but found that fire was “much more compelling” and provocative. “I love the idea of using a traditionally destructive element to create something new,” says Aronson. The theatrical and collaborative nature of his artistic process makes his work more interactive and alive. The audience becomes a part of the creation and the performance, enhancing his work’s multidimensional qualities. For his MFA thesis project at CalArts, Aronson “worked with a composer, opera singer, actors, dancers, and a costume designer to create a totally immersive experience”.
There is a buzz and curiosity present in Aronson’s work, a mysterious kinetic energy. Some of his portraits are only fragments when, once combined, become part of a larger whole, while others are devoid of faces completely. “I intentionally exclude vital information that could lead to identification of the model,” explains Aronson. “By doing this, I aim to make certain work more about the captured feelings and emotions that could be overlooked in a quick scan of a traditional portrait. I think of faces as vessels and use them to express complex emotions that have no physical form themselves”.
In a sense, a completed portrait is a rebirth of the subject’s identity, and through this process the viewer is led to think more deeply about their own and its relationship to the greater whole. Fire serves to magnify the concept of rebirth, while the element’s unpredictability alludes to the unstable and changeable nature of identity in today’s society. Aronson’s exploration of identity recalls that of artists such as Chuck Close, or Lucian Freud, both of whom utilized portraiture to gain a deeper understanding of human psychological nature.
The process utilized to create Aronson’s pieces serves to enhance the primal nature of his work, while the smoke from the flame intensifies the natural texture of the wood, enhancing the raw qualities inherent in both mediums. Fire has a primal energy to it, evoking symbols of rebirth and purification, reminiscent of ancient civilizations and their connection to the divine. It is an element that transcends time and meaning. The juxtaposition of fire’s unpredictable and destructive nature with Aronson’s disciplined self-control sets the stage for a performance that is as exciting as it is poignant. His ability to walk the line between creation and destruction serves to fan the flames of creativity and self-realization.