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Distributed for Reaktion Books

Burning Issues

Fire in Art and the Social Imagination

In the Greek myth, Prometheus steals fire from Zeus and gives it as a gift to mankind. Fire, once possessed only by the gods, can now be used by lowly man. Like knowledge in the Garden of Eden, fire is at once essential to living and a dangerous threat to life. This dual nature of fire—that it is something that leads us to think we can command it until it rages beyond our control—has inspired many legends around the world. 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 a highly personal examination of fascinating myths and biblical tales of fire, children’s stories, newspaper reports, diaries, paintings, photography, and film. Krell specifically examines representations of fire in word and image, looking at the work of painters, including Bosch, Arcimboldo, Goya, Dalí , Miró, and Tinguely, as well as contemporary figures who use fire as a theme in their work and performance. Questions concerning the private and the public, the intimate and the invasive, the destructive and the redemptive, weave through this generously illustrated book.
A captivating history of an element we take for granted in our daily lives until it threatens us, Burning Issues celebrates the magical discovery that took place when man thought to rub two sticks together until they sparked.

224 pages | 42 color plates, 42 halftones | 8 1/4 x 11 | © 2011

Art: Art--General Studies

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“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

“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

Table of Contents

Preface: Framing Fire
1. Fabled Fires
2. Dreaming Fire/Shedding Light
3. The Intimate Flame
4. Playing with Fire
Postscript: ‘A Dreadful Prankster’

Photographic Acknowledgements

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