I honestly can’t remember a time when I didn’t feel compelled to create art. Obviously, when I was two years old, I wasn’t creating masterpieces, but I was still picking up pencils and crayons and drawing anything and everything. Hopefully I did that on paper and not on my parents’ walls! Still today, I love to work with my hands and to feel the blow torch or the flamethrower in my fingers as I use it to create portraits that bring so much happiness to the people who see them.
What exactly inspires me to create art? That’s hard to pinpoint in a specific way, as the answer has shifted since I was younger, and it probably will again. For most of my life, I would have said that I was inspired by an impulse to create. It was such an integral part of who I was that I was uneasy when I wasn’t making art. It served as a coping mechanism, I suppose, because I found inner peace when I made art. It was a tool that I used to feel my best. We all have something like this, I think. Musicians need to make music. Athletes need to play their sports. Debaters need to debate. I needed to make art, and I still do.
Even as a young kid, I was especially interested in portraits. For some reason, they drew me to them. I spent a lot of time studying the drawings of Michael Angelo and Leonardo da Vincci, looking for insight into how to bring a person to life in a portrait. They were masters at what they did, and I analyzed every line they drew, learning from their incredible creations. UItimately, I think that I wanted to solve that puzzle of piecing a face together and putting into a portrait the traits and qualities that make someone uniquely who they are.
In recent years, what inspires me has shifted. Yes, I still find peace and happiness in the creative process. I don’t see that ever changing, honestly. However, that process has also become more social. It’s not just about putting someone’s features into the portrait; instead, it has become more about the interaction between me and the model, so much so that I now enjoy the process more, perhaps, than I do the final result.
I am inspired to create portraits, I think, because I want to bring back a lost art. When people think of portraits, they usually think of one of two things: either those that took months to make back in the 1800s or today’s artists who paint portraits from photographs. Neither approach works for me or for a lot of people, I believe. None of us have the time or patience to sit for a portrait that will take so long to make. I get that. However, is creating a portrait based on a photograph really the best alternative? I would argue that it isn’t.
My portraits can be created in three or four hours, and they are done from life. What I give my models, then, is an experience. Very few people have done anything like this before. They only know of portraits from seeing them in movies or museums, basically. With my fire portraits, I can create unique experiences for people. I absolutely love watching them light up as they see themselves immortalized in the wood.
Being able to consistently share that feeling and make people’s days, hearing that it’s the coolest experience they’ve ever had in their lives - that’s a big inspiration for me. I know that in the end, my portrait will hang on someone’s wall, and that’s great. The biggest value of it, though, is the experience. When the person looks at their portrait, they will be reminded of what it felt like to be seen so deeply, and that, I believe, is an amazing gift to be given.
Zachary Aronson recently started an artist residency in Hollywood where he paints portraits with fire Friday nights. He explains that it’s been good to get back in the zone where he can create and make live art. “There are quite a few celebrities and influencers passing through the club.” It’s a lot different from being in the studio. Zach explains, “In a portrait session, we are each other’s world, and the real world disappears. I really thrive in that space where I can connect with another person.”
Live events have those same qualities but it’s a little more chaotic. Zach feels that he is truly in his element when he’s out in a crowd and can share in live events. Oftentimes people are trying to converse with him while he’s working, but he welcomes it because he can just do it, so to speak. He can continue to share what he loves and still be present and soak in the energy from the crowd. “For instance, at festivals and clubs, there’s a spark there that just gives me life and energizes me,” Zach explains. “Most people are attending these events for other reasons, and I’m just there, kind of as a bonus.” It’s an entertaining surprise.
Diversity and Live Art
The people that attend these live affairs differ so much from one event to the next. “ That’s another thing that my work offers me, a chance to just meet and connect with a wide variety of people,” Zach explains. “For instance, the Burning Man community is a little different than other mainstream events.” He continues, “I have the Venice Art Walk coming up soon, so I end up meeting a very diverse mix of people all the time.” Zach enjoys sharing and introducing his art to others. “It’s very accessible for most people, even for people that haven’t discovered the value of art,” he explains. “ I kind of toe the line between performer and artist.” He continues, “There are a lot of people who are initially attracted to the fire aspect of my work, and then they see what I do with it and they appreciate the artistic element. To see it in real life is a lot different than seeing it on TikTok or Instagram.”
Zach used to consider himself a studio artist: someone who solely works in the studio and puts the finished pieces in a gallery or exhibit. Then someone who visited his studio just happened to ask if Zach would be willing to make the art live at a party. He brought all his materials and it was a hit! It wasn’t expected or intentional. “Now, I do custom commissions,” Zach explains. “Clients can come to my studio or I can travel all over Southern California and beyond.” Zach was always on the other side of the artwork. He elaborates. “Now, I’m being seen and photographed and I’m comfortable with it, even though that hasn’t always been the case.” You never know when an event like that will change your life. You just have to put yourself out there and be open to all the possibilities.
Inadvertently, art has made Zach a more social and comfortable person in public. Half of his work is actually done live now. It’s been a valuable experience for himself and for his career. Learning how to express yourself artistically and creatively in front of people is something a lot of people might not feel comfortable doing. For Zach, it was a matter of just taking advantage of the right opportunity at the right time and being open to new and different experiences.
For more information on Zachary Aronson and his ability to paint portraits using only fire, please see:
Most people struggled with what they should do with themselves at the beginning of the pandemic. Freelance artist, Zachary Aronson was no different. “I admit I was a little lost during that time because I almost exclusively do live portraits with fire,” Zach explains. “No one could even see their friends during that time.” This was difficult for me to process. Especially, when you are the kind of artist that equates productivity with creating and producing art. For portrait artists that feel the need to make and create this was definitely a tricky time and an unusual time to try and find inspiration.
A Break in the Timeline
For his entire life, Zach has always had a stream of artistic projects on display to track his progress. Even his art from childhood is kept in his home, dated with the names of his subjects on the back. This time really forced him to go through a shift where he had to find other ways to measure his productivity. “As a visual artist, once you make something, you have this object that lasts forever and I love that,” Zach explains. “Being okay with not being productive all the time was a major piece of my journey this past year and a half.” Spending time wisely doesn’t always have to result in something tangible.
Finding Value in Other Forms of Creativity
Zach explains that he did what most other people did. He spent some time practicing self-love: writing more, connecting with nature, and learning a little on guitar. During this time, he came to the realization that there were times as a youth that he might have used art as a defense mechanism of sorts. At times he thinks his art might have served as a crutch to have more social interaction. “I grew out of that, of course,” Zach explains. “I think of art as more of a tool now than a crutch and that my art is a product of being social.”
“This was all just at the beginning of the pandemic,” Zach says laughing. Zach eventually got bored enough and curious enough to try the “Not a Flamethrower” flamethrower on his art pieces. “This was during a time when I couldn’t go out and do what I love, he says. “I couldn’t do my preferred type of art where I meet people, so I just started to really push the boundaries with different techniques.”
Working Around a Pandemic
“It’s been interesting and bizarre going back into the world, trying to return to portraits with masks,” Zach admits. “I have a series of masked portraits.” It serves as a snapshot or documentation of the times.” Zach continues to proceed with caution, being responsible and safe. He is grateful that coming together hasn’t harmed him or anyone else. It’s been a tough year, but a year of more self-discovery as well.
Return to Yourself
“Otherwise, this past year has been pretty good for me, getting back out there, Zach shares. “My art is where I feel good, but it was good to know that I could break free from it and pursue other things besides art. In the past, I have felt like I needed my art.” He thoughtfully continues, “Now, I know that I don’t have to equate productivity with creating. I can just create because I know it serves as a tool for interaction and for giving the gift of art. I feel at home, so it’s good to be back home and in that space where I can connect with people again.”
For more information on Zachary Aronson and his ability to paint portraits using only fire, please see: