This page mainly features artwork created out of charred wood and charcoal. Charcoal has been used a kind of drawing tool since humans began to draw and was used in many early cave paintings, but these artworks treat charcoal not only as a tool, but also as a subject, with the artists exploring the characteristics of the material:
- Charred wood is kind of like Chinese ink in terms of ‘blackness’, but it is a kind of three-dimensional blackness with edges and angles and with surfaces that absorb and reflect light unevenly.
- The blackness of charcoal emphasizes shape and form, especially when contrasted against a white background, yet the patterns of the grain of wood can be preserved; the colors may be burnt away, but the shapes and patterns remain.
- Though charring the wood gives it a visual weight, the actual physical mass of the object is greatly reduced; the art becomes ‘heavier’ and ‘lighter’ simultaneously.
- Charring the wood is a kind of destructive process but results in a material with a lot of potential to be used for creative purposes.
David Nash: Madrone Sphere, Cube, Pyramid
British sculptor David Nash tends to work with naturally fallen wood. For work to be presented indoors, as is the case here, he often uses a chainsaw to roughly hew the wood into basic geometrical shapes and then he chars it using a blowtorch or other source of fire.
David Nash at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. In this video you can see his his chain-saw carving technique.
Mini-bio: David Nash was born in Esher, UK in 1945 and studied at Kingston College of Art and Chelsea School of Art. He is known for his work with large sculptures created from fallen wood and for his work creating massive living sculptures from growing trees. He was awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire) in 2004 for his services to art.
More on David Nash
Artist’s page at the Annely Juda Fine Art gallery website: www.annelyjudafineart.co.uk/artists/david-nash
Bahk Seon-Ghi: An Aggregation 20160621
Bahk-seon-ghi is a Korean artist who often works with wood and charcoal. In his charcoal-based work, the charcoal pieces are often suspended, giving them the appearance of floating on air. Besides the ‘floating charcoal’ other visual elements include the wispy texture of the nylon threads and the shadows cast on the wall behind.
An interview by the Korean Artist Project (in Korean with English subtitles):
Mini-bio: Korean artist Bahk Seon-Ghi was born in SunSan, South Korea in 1966 and studied at Chung-Ang University in Seoul before going on to study sculpture at the Accademia di Belle Arti Brera in Milan. Though best known for his work with charcoal, he also works with a variety of materials to create mixed media sculptures and installations.
More on Bahk Seon-ghi
Articles by Choi Tae-man and and Kim Jong-geun (Korean Artist Project): www.koreanartistproject.com/eng_artist.art?method=artistView&flag=artist&auth_reg_no=40
Lee Bae: Issu du feu
Lee Bae is Korean artist who works almost exclusively with charcoal. The Issu du Feu series of paintings is a mosaic of cross-sectional shards charcoal. The visual interest comes from the grain of the wood, the angular juxtaposition of the pieces and the different ways in which they absorb and reflect light. ‘Issu du feu’ is French for “from the fire”. The fire here isn’t destructive; it is transformational. The process of creating the charcoal—baking logs in a kiln for 15 days and leaving them to cool for another 15 days—preserves the texture, shape and grain of the wood while reducing its weight and giving it a blackness that emphasizes its form.
In this video (in French), you can see a wider range of the artist’s work (he also uses charcoal to create minimalist paintings that evoke Chinese ink paintings)
Mini-bio: Lee Bae was born in 1956 in Cheongdo, South Korea, studied at Hongik University Graduate School of Art and now lives and works in Paris. His works are abstract and he frequently makes use of charcoal, creating sculptures out of the material or combining it with acrylic and using it to create paintings.
More on Lee Bae
Artist’s page at the Johyun Gallery Artsy page: www.artsy.net/show/johyun-gallery-lee-bae
Shi Jindian: Carbonised String
Shi Shindian is a Chinese artist work is better known for his wire outlines of real objects (e.g., a jeep, clouds, shoes, etc), preserving the shape while removing the ‘heaviness’ of the object. Here, however, he is working with abstract forms, with the charcoal creating calligraphy-like shapes within the wire mesh. The arrangement of charcoal draws attention to not only the charcoal mass that is there there but also to the shape of the empty spaces where is seems that the charcoal has been removed (or has crumbled away). Thus there is a kind of contrast between the ‘blackness’ and the ’emptiness.’
Mini-bio: Shi Jindian was born in 1953 in China’s Sichuan Province and studied at the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in Chongqing. His paintings are usually abstract, while his wire-outline sculptures usually represent real objects like bicycles, violins and shoes.
More on Shi Jindian (师进滇)
Artist’s page at Contemporary by Angela Li website: cbal.com.hk/art/artists/shi-jindian-2
This section includes links to online photo galleries and websites, discussion questions and an art challenge.
Higher resolution images (e.g. 2048 x 1365) can be viewed online at:
- Which of the above artworks do you like best? Why?
- Besides its use as a tool for art, what other functions can charcoal serve? Are any of these other uses referred to any of the above works?
- Why do you think charcoal has been a popular medium for artists throughout the centuries?
Using charcoal, draw a piece of charcoal or a piece of charred wood
~ text and photos by longzijun
Return to Artjouer’s Gallery of Artists