Drawing with fire is one of humankind’s most ancient arts. This is what I was told by Ricardo Espada Horsfall when I visited him at his recent show, Smoke, Feelings and Wood at the Free-Space gallery in Northern Front Studio. He said early humans would have used charcoal from fire to make drawings.

That ancient art form has evolved into pyrography (writing with fire), which most Canadians know as wood-burning. On a Saturday at Free Space when I first visited the show, a gallery visitor reminisced about the wood-burning kit he had as a kid. I had one too, or my brother did, and we drew crude horses and houses and pick-up trucks.

Recalling these childhood drawings, I marvelled at the level of sophistication and mastery Horsfall has achieved with the medium. I didn’t expect the fineness of detail, the level of realism, or the sense of texture Horsfall brings out of the wood. He creates this realism by using both heat and his tools so that he is carving the wood. The final effect is more like relief sculpture than drawing. The technique requires layer after layer of work to achieve the textural quality of the pieces.

It’s all the more impressive because Horsfall has only recently begun his journey as an artist. The Spanish-born artist says that most of his life, he’s been on the go, with no time to make art. Since moving to the Yukon a few years ago, Horsfall has been able to slow down and turn his attention to his art. Once he gets started and the image begins to emerge from the wood, he can’t stop until it’s finished. All of the work in the show features animals. Each represents a human state of being. For example, in a piece called “Mine,” a squirrel is shielding a nut in its paws, representing selfishness. In “No Pain No Gain,” another squirrel is balanced somewhat precariously on a broken branch. Horsfall explained that he had always been told that struggle is necessary for success.

While Horsfall is inspired by Yukon wildlife, a few of his works feature domesticated animals, including a cat, a dog and a bull. To Horsfall the bull embodies power. He created it after a long retreat. The entire bull was made by stippling, making thousands of dots the same as you’d see in a pointillist painting. The largest work, and the one Horsfall laboured over most, is a hare (pictured above).

No pain, no gain

“I have completely lost count of hours and hours, layers and layers” Horsfall said of the piece. The hare is curled over in a vulnerable, withdrawn position, its eyes closed. Entitled “Scared of Feeling,” it represents fear, particularly of the unknown. Horsfall explains that exposing his work to an audience was a scary process for him. He had to be open to the uncertainty of how people would respond.

But he needn’t worry. All the time and patience that Horsfall put into the hare and the other works pays off.
“I don’t stop until I can feel them pop out of the wood!” Horsfall said of his practice. And his remarkable animals do exactly that.

Horsfall’s show at Free Space is over, but all the work can be viewed at Instagram.com/pyrolab_creations and Free-Space.ca He has some work for sale at Arts Underground. Folks can also contact him at [email protected]

The cooking fire …