Wildfires Explored through Art in New Museum Exhibit

(Left: Bryan David Griffith at work. Right: Impermanence of Forests by Bryan David Griffith | Photos courtesy of the High Desert Museum)

Across the American West, drought, dense forests and extreme weather exacerbated by climate change are contributing to catastrophic fires. The wildfire season is getting longer, and fires are becoming more intense and frequent.

Artist Bryan David Griffith has found inspiration from fires to pose valuable questions. His artistic works will come to the High Desert Museum starting Saturday, October 16 in the exhibition Rethinking Fire.

Dualities in nature — life and death, forest and fire — are at the heart of Griffith’s artwork. The exhibition includes encaustic beeswax paintings, fire studies on paper and large-scale burned wood sculptures.

Griffith investigates opposing forces in nature by using fire itself as a medium alongside other materials including wood and beeswax. His work reveals the human desire to control natural processes, often with unintended consequences. Rethinking Fire fosters a space where viewers can experience their own discoveries and pose their own questions.

Griffith’s journey into artwork began while studying engineering at the University of Michigan. After stumbling on a copy of Henry Horenstein’s Black and White Photography: A Basic Manual, he built a makeshift darkroom. He began a career with an international management consulting firm after graduation. However, Griffith was troubled by the environmental impact of his clients. He ultimately resigned to pursue photography full time, adopting a nomadic life and saving every dime for film and gas. The experience led to a personal connection with America’s public lands, reflected in his first collection of images, Listen to the Wild.

In 2014, Griffith’s home and studio were threatened by the Slide Fire in Sedona, Arizona. Coming out of the experience, he received a grant to study fire in the field with scientists as part of a group project called Fires of Change, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Joint Fire Science Consortium. The work from the project earned the 2016 Viola Award from the Flagstaff Arts Council and sparked the solo exhibition Rethinking Fire at the Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum in Arizona. Griffith currently lives in the mountain town of Flagstaff, Arizona with his wife, Tasha.

“We are experiencing landscape-altering wildfires more frequently in the High Desert,” said Museum Executive Director Dana Whitelaw, Ph.D. “Rethinking Fire offers a different vantage point through art, demonstrating that a force like wildfire that can be intensely destructive can also create awareness, resilience and a call to action.”

Griffith’s work is in public collections at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; University of Michigan Museum of Art; Center for Creative Photography and Fort Wayne Museum of Art. He has exhibited extensively throughout the United States.

Rethinking Fire (highdesertmuseum.org/rethinking-fire) will be on display through January 9, 2022.

The exhibit is possible with support from Alex Hodge Construction, Cascade A&E, Land Rover Portland, Tonkon Torp, Vernam Crane Services and the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation.


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