In a time where anyone can take a picture with their phone and immediately share it with the world, you have to wonder what’s missing from this experience. There’s no doubt that it’s fun and easy, but what is it about a portrait that makes it more valuable? Zachary Aronson, a freelance artist from Los Angeles helps us explore the lost art of creating portraits. He paints with fire, using blowtorches and flamethrowers to burn artwork into various types of wood. Primarily focusing on portraiture and figurative work. Zach shares, “I create all of my portraits freehand, from life, using only fire. I’ve developed this unique art form that I have dubbed open-flame pyrography over the last 10 years.”
Though your portraits needn’t involve blowtorches and flamethrowers, Zach does have some powerful words that we can draw inspiration from. “I’ve spent my entire life focused on my art,” Zach explains. “I’ve gravitated towards portraiture ever since I was a child.” He was inspired by great artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. “I was always drawing the person next to me, Zach shares. “I’m not really into abstract as much as I am about capturing the essence of a person.” This seems to be what’s missing from the digital age. Can a camera phone really capture the essence of a person the way a portrait can?
What else is in a portrait? “Portraits are challenging yet personal, it’s like a puzzle, finding different pieces and putting them together - immortalizing a person’s likeness, Zach explains. “I have hundreds and thousands of portraits in my studio. It’s a deeply personal experience that people are no longer used to.” He elaborates, “There’s something classical and romantic about it. I enjoy the moments when I can give the gift of being seen and valued.”
It’s true we don’t see many people request to have their portraits done as a way to immortalize themselves or someone else. Though portraits have evolved to be more abstract, we still tend to think of portraits from the 1600s when an artist was paid a great deal of money to draw or paint a person. Being an artist provides one with an opportunity to explore past artists and discover the beauty in a time where things weren’t so…digital.
“I used to take a sketch pad and go to a bar and ask the person next to me if he could draw them,” Zach recalls. “I asked a woman sitting next to me if I could draw her portrait, and she seemed genuinely surprised, but she agreed to let me.” Zach goes on to explain, “When I was done, I handed it to her and she started to cry. I was thinking oh no, the lighting was bad and we were talking the whole time, so it’s probably terrible and she hates it.” Quite the opposite. Zach shares, “She actually hugged me and thanked me. She said she had never felt beautiful, but that the portrait was indeed beautiful.”
“People don’t always feel that they are worthy of this act,” Zach explains. He loves those moments - these moments are forever. They serve as a visual memory.
This brings us to another aspect of this art form. The social aspect. There’s so little effort and time involved in taking a picture with our phone. “This is a real snapshot of both our lives, Zach emphasizes. “My artwork is a very social experience. I’m not the kind of artist that locks himself away not see the light of day until it’s done.” This lost art is really a way to show someone their value- to show someone that they are seen and worth your time. For Zach, his art is the product of being social and taking the time to get to know someone. This is the difference between capturing someone’s image and capturing the essence of a person.