Most Southern California residents are getting ready for wildfires in the fall, but normally the preparation does not include creating paintings.
Danielle Nelisse’s series, entitled “Wildfires,” was inspired when nine wildfires simultaneously surrounde..d her art studio in Bonita, California. The sky became dark with charred ash. While she stood in her studio creating the first two paintings on two canvases side-by-side, her family members checked in over the phone to make sure she was well. The massive wildfires were fed for days by the hot Santa Ana winds that blew in from the desert.
Luckily she hasn’t been ordered to evacuate her art studio – yet.
Many paintings start out flat on the floor, with vertical and horizontal marks becoming the starting point. Using palette knives and different sized brushes, Nelisse applies colors in thick swathes and fine lines, relying on both bold gestures and precision. For example, in Wildfires VI, a fiery lemon yellow background is contrasted with angled parallel magenta, orange, teal, and lavender tree trunks that trace the burned trees from the foreground to the sky.
For years Nelisse has continued to paint large scale abstract wildfire landscapes, depicting the burned landscape in all seasons. In 2018 she moved out of her art studio to Spring Valley, California when another wildfire broke out within sight of her art studio.
“I worry a lot about my own safety and the safety of my family,” states Nelisse. “Making wildfire paintings lets me release that anxiety. I am forever grateful to the wildland firefighters for their commitment and unrewarded bravery.”
“Wildland firefighters do not enjoy the cultural prestige that structural firefighters do. They do not wax their fire engines and cruise down the local parade route, lights flashing; they are not the subject of countless popular books and movies; major politicians do not honor their sacrifices on the Senate floor or from the Rose Garden; they do not have bagpipe bands, fancy equipment, enduring icons, or other signifiers of honor verifying the importance of their activity.”
Matthew Desmond, On the Fireline: Living and Dying with Wildland Firefighters, 2008