Containment – A Failed Experiment with Oil and Fire

Containment: A Failed Experiment with Oil and Fire, (c) JROW 2011; oil, fire, water, tape, 22×30 watercolor paper

I’m not sure where I got the idea for this, but I knew I wanted to burn paper. I think paper looks beautiful burned. I live in a very tiny apartment. If I had to guess, I’d say maybe it’s 350 square feet. If I wanted to burn paper I had to be very careful. I’m quite clumsy, so this only increases my risk of accidentally burning down my building.

I did a few versions of this piece on computer paper, and I found that I was able to contain the oil within one taped rectangle and fire in the other taped rectangle. But when I used the larger 22×30 paper (in my bathtub), this attempt at containing seemingly uncontainable forces (though on a small scale) failed. The oil bled through the paper beyond the tape and I had to quickly throw water all over it before the fire got out of control. This was such a silly experiment. I even used the wrong side of the paper. On the other side of the paper was the very neatly taped rectangle, and I accidentally used the not as neatly taped side meant for reinforcement.

I still think the drawings that resulted from the oil and fire came out quite beautifully, as does most natural form. This was definitely a good reminder that my attempt at perfection and control are futile.

In the future, I might attempt at using fire again, but in a space where it is safe for me to do so. Until then, here is my failed attempt!

There are a few artists who use fire in their art: Yves Klein, Steven Spazuk, and Cai Guo-Qiang. If you know of others, please share πŸ™‚


About JRow

JRow is an L.A.-based artist who also creates and leads online community-based art projects. Websites:


  1. I think burned paper is beautiful, too! Good luck with future fire attempts! I think the picture above looks lovely. πŸ™‚

  2. Maybe not failed … could you cut it up and re-use it in collage or something? And a learning experience is never a failure! =D

  3. Pingback: July Roundup at JRow Art: Art Shows + Art Experiments+ Community Art Projects Galore « JRow Art

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