I’ve always been fascinated by fire. When I was a kid, my two favourite mischievous activities were to throw eggs at passing cars and setting things on fire. My friends and I were always interested in finding newer and cooler ways of igniting objects. Rubbing alcohol, nail polish remover, hair spray, gasoline, air freshener, lighter fluid were all favourites. We’d get together and try to invent new ways to create bigger, more intense, and more dangerous flames. We’d steal lighters from the corner store and adjust them so they’d make flames two to three times as tall as regular lighters. We’d direct hairspray across a lighter’s flame to melt action figures or we’d write our names in gasoline on the street and light it up.
Fire plays a huge role in our social consciousness. As humans we’ve used fire to represent a lot of emotions, we describe passions as “fiery”, and depending on what we’re burning we can use fire to show deepest respect or acerbic mockery. Vikings would burn their honoured dead. I’ve caused myself a lot of trouble burning things in the past. I am a strong proponent of burning things out of disrespect. While there are definitely more powerful ways to disrespect something – pissing on it for example – nothing really combines disrespect with destruction in such an eloquent way as fire does.
I’ve never outgrown my love of setting things on fire, it’s just that what I used to do for fun I now do to prove a point. It’s a different direction my life has taken since age 15.
A couple of years ago my friend Marshall who is a very talented artist asked me if he could paint a portrait of me wearing this corny Straight Edge basketball jersey that I own. He said he wanted to start a portrait series of Straight Edge kids since he’s also Edge, and I of course agreed to do it. He came over to my old apartment and took a digital photograph of me wearing my Straight Edge jersey and over the course of a couple months he painted a really impressive portrait of me. He won some awards from his school and had several of his painting including the one of me hung in a school art show.
I borrowed the painting from Marshall to hang in my room for a few months until he asked for it back to display in another art show he’d gotten at a local restaurant/venue space/art gallery in Richmond. He was really excited for his first real non-school art show and so he invited a bunch of us to come out. I showed up to support Marshall and when I arrived the guy working the door at the venue was really weird and awkward to me and made some snide remark about not needing to see my ID as he knew I wouldn’t be drinking. I laughed it off figuring he just recognized me from the portrait wearing the Straight Edge jersey.
When I took a look around the room I realized that the paining of me was sporting a plain black jersey that no longer said Straight Edge on it. I went directly to Marshall to ask what exactly had happened to my painting and he answered that the guy who runs the place claimed to have “had problems with Straight Edge kids in the past” and refused to hang the painting.
There is a debate as to whether the guy running the venue asked Marshall to paint over the words “Straight Edge” or whether Marshall volunteered but in the end Marshall censored his own painting to get it hung in an art show. When I confronted Marshall about how bullshit his behavior was, he said that he needed to sell paintings to pay rent and so he felt he had no choice. I felt like it was one of the biggest betrayals of Straight Edge I’d ever heard of and on top of that was a huge insult to artists everywhere. To censor a painting for the sake of making money, and in the process disrespect both your own convictions and the convictions of your subject seemed incomprehensible to me.
I was disgusted that I felt like someone I was friends with could be bought and sold like that and I felt like I had no choice but to buy the painting and set it on fire. I was infuriated by the idea of having my likeness being involved at all in the buying and selling of a person’s moral convictions.
So I scraped together a hundred bucks I couldn’t spare, met Marshall at the venue and paid him for my painting and yanked it off the wall. I met up with some friends who share my feelings about Straight Edge and about art and we doused the painting in rubbing alcohol and set it on fire and laughed as it burned. At first I felt like it was a pretty crazy thing to do until I realized that potheads make an entire lifestyle out of spending hundreds of dollars on something just to laugh while they burn it.
I never really thought that I could feel insulted and degraded by art but I really felt like my whole life was deprecated by that painting and I think that it is the hands down my favourite thing I’ve ever caught on fire.