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  • Arsenio Baca

Burning Wood

I remember when I was in the 2nd grade I got in trouble for using a magnifying glass to burn a piece of wood. My teacher even threatened to suspend me for that but luckily it was the last day before summer break so they didn't have many options on how to punish me. To think that now that same action helps provide a living for me always makes me smirk.


Working on wood is always a challenge. It seems every piece of wood provides a new obstacle to overcome. Unlike a piece of paper wood panels are never a blank white canvas. They always have imperfections that end up becoming a part of the final art. I see it as every piece of wood has its own story to tell. So when I work on wood, more so than any other art form, I feel I am channeling rather than creating from the top of my head. Now this may sound strange, but I think most artists would agree with me that most pieces rarely turn out the way we see them initially in our head. That's the beauty of art to me. That's why I've never felt the need to copyright my work or get mad when someone else uses one of my past designs without my consent. In my mind I don't own my art. As soon as I put my tools to the surface, whether a pencil on paper, a brush on canvas, a needle to the skin, or an iron on wood, that image or idea no longer belongs to me. It belongs to all that observe it. All that get inspired by it. All that feel an emotion because of it. So much of what I create is based on what inspires me. I was once told by a man I was having a conversation with that being an artist means I must be really smart. When I asked why, the man told me "Because artists can say 1000 words with one image." I wonder though, who is really speaking the message, the artist or the art?

When I start a new piece I always start with an image or idea that makes me question something. Thats probably why I love portraits so much because I always wonder what is behind the subject's expression. What are their eyes seeing? With this piece my initial idea was to express the hardship and dedication a fighter must endure to rise to the top. How I was going to express that through my imagery I was never certain of, I just trusted that by starting it a message would appear as the images began to materialize. This is where the sense of channeling comes from. It is hard to put into words but the best artwork I've ever produced has always come when I surrender control and just let whatever wants to come out, come out. Sometimes its not the most efficient approach to creating artwork and at times it can get frustrating not knowing what comes next. Eventually though, with patience, a story begins to form, and the images add up. Before I know it a message has formed, one that i never anticipated, and one I can never say is completely my own.

I love the smell when I'm creating a wood burn. There is something hypnotic about it. To me it is the smell of the spirit transforming. Growing up my family used to camp a lot. I always enjoyed the smell of the campfire and sitting around the fire looking up at the stars. When I am around a campfire to this day everything else in the world seems to dissipate, and life becomes so much simpler. The smell of the wood burning always takes me back to the campfire and brings peace to my mind. A peaceful mind is a clear mind. A clear mind leaves the door open for creativity and inspiration to flood in.



As this piece began to form I started to see it more as a cultural message than just as a battle for glory. I started to see a vision of facing every battle in life with the eyes of our ancestors watching us. Each of us makes choices in life that will define the path that we end up taking. Those choices we make are based on the morals and traditions we are taught by those that came before us. Only when we understand our own history can we make decisions armed with the wisdom of our ancestors. Everything in this piece in one way or another is trying to communicate that one message. Our struggle in every aspect of life no matter what we are chasing, is always being watched by not only our ancestors, but our descendants as well. Both past and future are determined by our actions in the present. What I love about art pieces like this is as I create it, it in turn teaches me. The ultimate message that ends up being conveyed only becomes clear in my head as I put the images down on the wood. So in the end the question every piece always leaves me with is this:


Is it the Artist creating the Art, or the Art that ends up creating the Artist?



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