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280 × 210 mm
224 pages
84 illustrations, 46 in colour
01 Sep 2011

Burning Issues Fire in Art and the Social Imagination Alan Krell

From the Greek myth of Prometheus to the counter-cultural Burning Man Festival in the Black Rock Desert, Nevada, fire has always sparked our imagination. Like knowledge in the Garden of Eden, fire is at once essential to life and a threat to it. We are fascinated and comforted by the fire that warms us and cooks our food and frightened and horrified by the fire that destroys our home and environment. Its power is an unavoidable presence in our lives.

In Burning Issues Alan Krell reflects on fire’s paradox through fascinating myths and biblical tales of fire, newspaper reports, diaries, children's fables, paintings, photography and film. Krell specifically examines representations of fire in the work of painters including El Greco, Millais, Magritte and Kokoschka, as well as that by modern and contemporary artists, such as Jean Tinguely, Yves Klein and Susan Hiller, who use fire as a theme in their work and performance. Questions surrounding the private and the public, the intimate and the invasive, the destructive and the redemptive, weave through this generously illustrated book.

An absorbing history of an element we take nearly for granted until it threatens us, Burning Issues is a timely deliberation on the remarkable discovery that took place when man thought to rub two sticks together until they sparked.

‘Extraordinarily well illustrated, with Australian bush fires, the Great Fire of London and the fire-bombing of Dresden sitting alongside candle-lit scenes of domestic warmth, this book covers all aspects of fire's grand narrative.’ – Times Higher Education

‘What makes this brilliant book so important is not so much its subject matter as its methodology. Single subject books have been written on all kinds of topics, from tears to oysters to earwax. Many profess to be global and exhaustively encyclopedic. What sets Burning Issues apart is its author’s determination to deliver on that promise . . . there are other reasons to be excited about this book, which constantly shows us Phoenix rising with both hope and purpose from all sorts of charred ashes.’ – Australian Book Review

‘Alan Krell's new book examines the whole phenomenon of fire in human thought and history . . . an engaging book which touches on many disciplines without becoming lost in the archaeological minutiae of a single field of endeavour.’ – Canberra Times

‘Moving along its varied approaches, [the book] rewards with a generous gallery of paintings and photographs, most of which are likely to be new to the reader . . . Krell's treatment of the domesticized flame ranges widely, considering paintings of reading by candlelight and an analysis of the sexualized fires of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, for example.’ – The Chronicle Review

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Alan Krell is Associate Professor in Art History and Theory at the College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. He is the author of Fred Cress: Stages (1989), Manet and the Painters of Contemporary Life (1996) and The Devil's Rope: A Cultural History of Barbed Wire (Reaktion, 2002).