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Northrup King Building

1500 Jackson Street Northeast
Minneapolis, MN
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Creating with Fireworks

Using only lit, burning fireworks, I begin each piece as part artist, part mad scientist.  Fireworks as a medium are volatile and unpredictable.  All techniques and processes are self-discovered.  My first layer is the least controllable of my techniques.  Reacting to that layer, I make decisions about composition, selecting areas to mask or burn.  Color selection is vague; a “red” could present as burgundy, fire engine red or pink, depending on my distance to the canvas, as well as the dispersion rate.  As the fireworks burn, organic dye is vaporized into colored smoke; depending on the technique I am attempting to achieve, the smoke is trapped or manipulated around and through things set on the canvas for different effects.  Unexpected compositional effects, such as burn holes and singed areas, happen when the fireworks misfire or expel the contents onto the canvas in a ball of fire.  Although unintentional, these incidents become part of my composition-you cannot erase a burn.  I am attempting to control the uncontrollable. My work is at the mercy of explosives and fire. Fireworks, as a medium, create a tension that pits celebration against trauma.  And in the strongest pieces, neither gives way to the other.


Artist Statement

My mother was the biggest influence in my life. She was an art teacher and taught me to look at everything with an artistic eye and see the potential in anything. Thanks to her, I have always been drawn to experimental mediums, assemblage, using discarded things and “thinking outside the box”. When my mother passed away in 2005, after a lengthy battle with cancer, my world shattered. I struggled to find my voice as an artist. Creativity is such an emotional experience, one that my mother and I often shared, and we collaborated on many projects over the years. Having to deal with life without her was an early lesson in how uncontrollable life can be. This may contribute to why I am drawn to the uncontrollable tendencies of fireworks, which are the subject of my work. Sometimes fireworks do what I desire, and sometimes they don’t. When they create unintentional marks, I must figure out how to incorporate these marks into my composition.  It is my goal to make original works of art, using never before seen mediums and non-traditional techniques. I am attempting to control the typically uncontrollable. My work is at the mercy of explosives and fire. Fireworks, as a medium, represent the tension between celebration and trauma. Specifically, the trauma of explosion; a destructive force. The art pieces have bright, vibrant colors, but not a drop of paint has been used. The colors are left behind by the exploding fireworks. My artwork proves that there is beauty in the experimental, beauty in the unintentional, beauty in the uncontrollable, and sometimes even beauty in trauma. As I think it over, that really is the core of who my mother was. She always saw the beauty in everything and everyone. Art is beauty, and I hope my artwork makes my mother proud.


The “Spark”

By far the most common question I receive related to my work is: “How on earth did you come up with the idea to use fireworks as an art medium?” I always respond with this story… I was attending the University of Missouri in Columbia working toward obtaining my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. During the Summer of 2007, I took a fibers course focused on book making. Our final project was to make a book using techniques learned in class. Even though the final was due July 5th, that wasn’t going to stop me from going home to Lake Waukomis in Kansas City to throw my yearly 4th of July party. I had put off finishing my final project, so I was stuck working on my book over the weekend and during the party. I decided to re-purpose an existing book, turning it into an ABC book of all “war” related words. Atomic, bio-hazard, casualties, etc. I attempted to make the book look as if it had been through a traumatic event, a “war zone”. I started by trying to burn the edges of the book, but it was not going very well. While I was doing this, I could hear my friends inside having a great time. One of my friends, David, came out to see how it was going. When I told him of my dilemma, he said, “why don’t you just light a firework off in the book?” To which I responded, “Geez, why didn’t I think of that!” I would say this was the proverbial “light-bulb”, but really it was more of an explosion! From then on, I always give David credit for being the “spark” of this body of artwork. We proceeded to shoot bottle rockets, firecrackers, smoke bombs, Roman candles, sparkles, etc. at the book. My friends thought I was crazy, blowing up my final project, but the results were stunning! Beautiful charred marks, singed pages, it was perfectly burnt to a crisp! A little later, I noticed that certain fireworks created really interesting colors and marks. This got me thinking, “What would this look like on canvas?” The next year, while camping with my future husband’s family, I got a chance to try it out. Since we were camping, I only had discarded items to use to get different effects. Most of items I pulled from the trash; bottles, cans, etc. The canvases turned out great and I was hooked. In Missouri, where I lived at the time, fireworks were only legal 2 days out of the year. This posed a challenge for my newly found obsession. It’s not like you can hide a big plume of smoke! Because of these regulations it took me close to 10 years working on and off in this medium to develop my technique. Now that I have relocated to Wisconsin, I am able to create this art more freely. I love working with a medium that is as challenging as it is surprising. It’s crazy to think this journey all started with a little “spark”!

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