A powerful impression: A work called “Trivalent I," created for Artenol by ANFO. Artenol photo

Art bomber explodes convention

By Rowling Dord


Using quarter-sticks of dynamite, ANFO created a small-scale version of one of his pyroesthetic artworks. Seen here is the "splatter tent" after the blast. Artenol photoAn issue of Artenol concerned with terror would not be complete without a story about the elusive and controversial artist who calls himself ANFO. With help from several dealers connected to graffiti and street art culture, I was able to contact ANFO and, after repeated assurances that his identity would not be shared, convinced him to create one of his pieces exclusively for this magazine.

By now, ANFO’s unusual technique for creating his visually provocative paintings is well known. Using construction-grade explosives to disperse paint and other media – including, in one disturbing work, his own blood – across curtains of raw canvas, he freezes in time moments of destructive energy and random chaos. “They speak the unspeakable,” ANFO told me of his images. “Unimaginable power becomes quite imaginable. You can almost feel it when you look at these canvases.”

ANFO – his name is an anagram used for ammonium nitrate and fuel oil, materials used in industrial explosives – knows about that power. Born in the Middle East, he experienced terrorist bombings as a child. “I remember a rocket hit our school, completely destroying the art classroom. It was very frightening. But then I saw our poster paints sprayed all over the wall. It was suddenly very beautiful!” Now ANFO recreates that reifying moment with sticks of dynamite, gallons of paint and yards of canvas.

Because he insists on working outside governmental restrictions, ANFO is not licensed to handle explosives and has never obtained a permit for his explosions. He acquires his blasting material from underground sources, and frequently makes his own. He detonates his art works in public places, usually on vacant lots or in abandoned buildings, taking care to clear the area of bystanders before “painting.” In the current political atmosphere, pyrotechnical actions like these frequently provoke the authorities. Twice, ANFO has been arrested for violations of the Patriot Act, and work from his 2015 show at David Zwirner was confiscated by Homeland Security agents.

“When I make a piece, it takes weeks to organize it,” said ANFO. “Then it’s finally ready and I push the button. Everything is noise, fire and smoke. Then I just grab the painted canvases and run like hell!”

Read the rest of this story in the Winter 2016 issue of Artenol. Order yours today

Artist ANFO ignites and explodes a quarter-stick of dynamite to demonstrate how he creates his unusual pyroesthetic artworks. Artenol photo

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