Most of us—since our first steps as sentient beings—are instructed to never play with fire. As artists and creative individuals, we are not inclined to do what we’re told. Instead, we push boundaries, write unanswerable riddles, and evoke controversy.
And we love it.
Because of this ardor for the unconventional, artists such as InLiquid member Alex Kuhn ignite images that leave indelible impressions both figuratively and—in Alex’s case—quite literally.
Unafraid to play with fire, Alex is a Pyrographic artist that uses heat to burn images of nature into the surface of wood. With his unique choice of medium, each piece he creates is anatomical in a way that blends art and science into a single form.
Site Editor Kim Minutella was excited to have the opportunity to have a chat with Alex about his work, and to learn more about Pyrography:
Kim: What is Pyrography? Can you tell me more about this process and how it works?
Alex: “Pyrography is the process of heat and metal on wood. The gradient changes of the surface of the wood come from both the heat and the time. So if the tool you are using becomes very hot in a short amount of time, then it will produce a different black mark than if it were to be slightly less hot. For my work, I use what’s called a woodburner, which is essentially a modified soldering iron. It’s the most basic tool that you can get for Pyrography. The most sophisticated tool available is called a nibsburner, and I really don’t like it. It’s more expensive and gets too hot too quickly, which causes the metal tips to break. With the woodburner, I only choose to work with one tip to make all of the patterns. So, it’s kind of like the dumb version of the nibsburner, but it’s so dumb that it’s perfect.”
Kim: What was it that led you to pursue this form of art?
Alex: “The reason I got into wood-burning was…I was just stumbling through a hardware store and saw a propane torch, and I was just thinking about how I could use them to draw with. I had been doing art with different styles like painting, charcoal, and drawing for years beforehand, and a lot of those same techniques can transfer over. When I started messing around with the propane torch, I found that there was a big community of people that already did this type of thing, and they had specific tools that they used.”
Kim: You produce highly detailed works of art, with the use of fine lines, and patterns to create textures that breathe life into your illustrations. Because Pyrography is, in many ways, a permanent process, what are some of the challenges you have faced with your work?
Alex: “Some of the very real challenges are wood quality and the structural integrity of the wood itself. If you use a wood like medium-density fibreboard, which is basically scraps of compressed wood, there’s no wood grain to it, and it’s impossible to burn. I am also really concerned with the aesthetic of the wood. If there’s a deformity of the wood that’s not a knot, it can’t really be used.
Kim: Your work focuses primarily on nature and animals, in a way it’s like you’re working directly with nature to illustrate your subject.
Alex: “Totally. It’s funny because I’m not going to say the wood is talking, I don’t really mean that. But when the tree is growing and it has a lot of water…or when it’s struggling to get water, parts of the wood will vary. The darker rings of the wood are a harder surface, so the time it takes to burn the wood changes. So you have to make sure you allocate the right amount of heat, because the wood will only allow itself to be burnt at a certain gradient over a certain amount of time.”
Kim: It sounds like you put a lot of research into your work!
Alex: “Yeah so, the type of research I do in technical terms is a lot of trial and error. In reference to my subjects, I go to the Philadelphia Zoo and spend a lot of time in the library, reading up on different types of animals and bugs…some of which that I have never heard of. “
Kim: With the amount of factual evidence that goes into your art, audiences will get to do their own research with your upcoming exhibition, The Pyriscent Seed: Art Through Fire. What does the term “Pyriscent” mean and how does it relate to your work?
Alex: “Pyriscence is a type of change that happens in plants, specifically seedlings in regard to flame. It’s a phenomenon where a seed gets triggered to life from heat. A lot of trees have evolved to only bear their fruit after a forest fire, which is super cool because it’s life’s way of ensuring that it’s not going to die. And so, the reason that I connected Pyriscence to the show is because, in a way for me the wood is dead, but it’s also alive in the way that it allows me to put these designs on top of it through the use of fire and flame.
Kim: The Pyriscent Seed: Art Through Fire will feature your piece, Time Dilation, that will be on display at the show. As of right now, the piece is quite a mystery. Can you tell me just a little bit about it, without giving too much of the mystery away?
Alex: “I have never done a piece like this before. And I think it represents something really good not only for me but for the ideas that my art represents. Because it’s not only factual in terms of metamorphism…it adds a level of surrealism that I have personally never seen. I don’t think I would tell, personally, what I feel about it, or what it means to me because it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter to them, the audience. What it means to me versus the viewer, what it means to them is so much more personal. I am the one that created it, but now it exists separately, and it can be interpreted in any way.”
On August 1, you can uncover the mystery behind the piece, Time Dilation, and explore evolution, metamorphosis, time, and death at Alex’s exhibition: The Pyriscent Seed, Art Through Fire, on display at dane decor, located on 315 Arch St in Philadelphia.