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Hubris (Louis-Vuitton Gas Mask with Blue Jay), 2017, soot and acrylic on panel.


Molly Hamill

I ran down the streets of Boston’s SOWA district on a chilly night in early April, heading to the opening reception of “Spazuk: Hubris, Beauty & Greed.” The Adelson Gallery on Harrison Avenue was buzzing, but the work on the walls immediately commanded my attention more than the colorful, well-coiffed crowd.

Elegant clouds of black carbon soot billowed on the canvases and images emerged: butterflies, birds and bunnies; skulls, flowers and gas masks. The pieces … an alarm. Steve Spazuk paints with fire. Well, not fire per se but rather the potent pollution produced as it burns. He says the idea came to him in a dream 16 years ago.

“I had a dream one night where I was looking at a painting or a drawing, it was a landscape, and I knew in my dream that this work was done with a flame, with a candle,” he explained. “I knew it was done with soot. That next morning, I thought: ‘It must work. I will have to try it later.’ I made an attempt that very evening. Sure enough — the first paper I put the flame on caught fire. I soon realized I had to use a cardboard paper, one that was thicker and more coated than mat paper. It was then I immediately knew it would work.”

The 13 pieces included in this show speak to the devastating effects of carbon in our environment. “Threaten” depicts a small bird precariously perched on a grenade. “I’m preoccupied with the environment,” Spazuk says. “And I’m really noticing that there’s less and less birds coming to our feeding platforms where we live in the south shore of Montreal. So to put a bird on a grenade like that — and he’s holding the pin, ready to take it and fly away — it’s like we’re four seconds before midnight — with the ecology situation, the carbon pollution that we’re doing.”

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