Painting and the Visual Arts

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A perspective on the painting "Controlled Burn" by Tim Davis.

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Tim Davis's "Controlled Burn" depicts a fire started for the purposes of forest clearance and subsequent road-building in the Everglades. The focal point of the composition is the small fire in the bottom left-hand corner of the picture, which creates a trail of smoke moving upwards and to the right, bisecting the painting diagonally. The bright spot of fire and the motion of the smoke create an unusually clear trajectory for the spectator's eye, which only later notices, from the reflection of the fire, that the very bottom of the painting contains the edge of a pool of water.

The background of the painting shows wood on the forest floor, with green trees and undergrowth receding into mist. The scene depicted calls the title into question. A controlled burn means a fire which is started with the purpose of burning the foliage over a designated area, while presenting the fire from spreading further. This is generally done by clearing the surrounding land, giving the fire no way to spread. Here, however, the fire is surrounded by trees and undergrowth as far as one can see. Only the water at the front of the painting constitutes a natural barrier which would prevent the fire from spreading. However, the small size of the fire, the amount of smoke generated, and the damp appearance of the wood and foliage, as well as the background mist, combine to create the impression that the fire will be controlled not by any human agency, but by the natural environment around it.

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