The title Controlled Burn that Tim Davis has given his painting suggests two related lines of analysis. One concerns the subject of the painting: a small fire in a forested setting. The other involves the author’s intentions in focusing on this subject and his manner of executing the painting.
According to the U.S. Forest Service, a “controlled burn” is another term for “prescribed burn” or “prescribed fire.” An important method “to restore health to ecosystems,” it is used in both forest and rangeland management. Along with benefitting natural resources in numerous ways, such burns reduce the likelihood of unplanned wildfires.
The controlled burn may also be used in a non-literal sense. It can be a metaphor for clearing impediments in order to enable new developments or creativity.
In the painting, Davis shows a small fire burning on its own. This fire occupies the lower left corner, and its smoke drifts diagonally upward, partly obscuring the trees. No human beings or tools are shown. Their absence encourages the viewer to question if the fire is being controlled, and if why, by whom. The viewer is thus forced to acknowledge the artist’s hand in creating the scene. The painting’s realistic style is thus contradicted by the artificiality of a situation in which the artist is in control.