Jean Boghossian’s ‘Smoke Signals’ in Luxembourg

Jean Boghossian, Smoke Signals #2, 2023 © Studio Boghossian

Running now until 27th April, Nosbaum Reding Gallery, Luxembourg presents Smoke Signals, a captivating new exhibition by renowned multi-media artist Jean Boghossian. This is Boghossian’s debut at the gallery, and this new body of work explores the theme of communication using the ancient concept of smoke signals, an early form of communication used throughout history by ancient cultures to warn of impending danger – and an elemental force that transcends time.

Historically, smoke signals were employed by such diverse cultures as Native American tribes and ancient Greeks for long-distance communication, serving as a primitive yet effective means of conveying information, or warnings, over vast distances. In using smoke signals as a metaphor, Boghossian’s exhibition seek to explore this universal human need to connect and inform, during a volatile era of history in which the ‘message’ is all-too lost.

“I hold the belief that art is the supreme instrument for dialogue and the desire to connect with the world, which opens paths to possible self-transformations, allowing for an understanding of others.”

Jean Boghossian

Jean Boghossian, a Belgian artist of Lebanese-Armenian origins, is renowned for his innovative use of fire and smoke in his multidisciplinary abstract artworks, which tackle various themes, from ocean pollution to the threat of climate change; while his use of burnt books evokes both the darkest pe-riods in human history and the enduring resonance of literature in the digital age.

somke signals
Jean Boghossian at work – © Studio Boghossian

“Fire is my partner,” he says. “He chose me to reveal what he can produce. I try to guide him to what I want. Sometimes he follows but sometimes he resists and sometimes he burns me. It’s like dancing a tango. So we, fire and me, dance and we get the results that you see.”

This dynamic interplay between destruction and regeneration is symbolised by deliberate burn degradation to various mediums, including canvas, paper, books, and plastics, often creating visually striking perforated patterns. His paintings and drawings incorporate a diverse array of materials and techniques, while his sculptures, crafted from wood, polystyrene, clay, marble, and bronze, bear the fiery energy characteristic of his other works.

His processes involve drawing, painting and sculpture using a variety of materials, incorporating wa-tercolours, oil paints, soot and pigments, using colours inspired by the jewels of his past career, which transform with the application of heat. Other techniques include a unique folding process, as well as collage, affording further dimensions to the works after they are burnt or scorched.

His process seeks harmony amid the chaotic nature of flames and smoke, engaging in a “fire dance” until the right balance is achieved, aligning him with artists like Burri, Fontana, Pollock, and Kounellis. Although he claims not to belong to any artistic movement, his art may place him alongside the Zero-movement and Fluxus, while as one of the only artists in the world experimenting with fire and smoke, his work is also redolent of the German painter and sculptor, Anselm Kiefer, another ‘alchemist’, whose use of the heating and melting process has a similarly transformative effect on his art.


Redolent too of French-Canadian artist Steven Spazuk’s flame-powered technique, known as fumage, a process originally popularised by 1930s Surrealist painters, in particular Wolfgang Paalen, by which layers of spray paint are applied to a surface and set alight, so creating a myriad of patterns and shapes. Salvador Dalí and Roberto Matta also utilised the technique, along with other celebrate artists including Yves Klein and Anaïs Nin’s husband, Ian Hugo. Other contemporary artists working with fumage include Antonio Muñiz, and more recently, in 2022, Damien Hirst set fire to 1,000 of his artworks, including his famous dot paintings, completing their transformation into non-fungible tokens.

In 1992 Boghossian co-founded the Boghossian Foundation at Villa Empain in Brussels, and in recent years has exhibited widely. In 2017, he represented the Pavilion of the Republic of Armenia at the 57th Venice Biennale, showcasing his distinct fire-based artworks with his exhibition Fiamma Inestinguibile. In 2022, his exhibitions included the Bentley Art Car Course in Brussels and Melencolia Contemporanea in Venice. Most recently, he was featured in The Sea is Green hosted by SBM and at Opera Gallery in Monaco in 2023. While that same year, his The Language of Fire – Flaming Imaginary exhibited at Villa Zito’s Pinacoteca and other various locations in Palermo.

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Jean Boghossian, Smoke Signals #5, 2023, © Studio Boghossian

The exhibition places Boghossian’s work within an expanded historical art framework, highlighting the symbolic, aesthetic, and conceptual dimensions that smoke has embodied in artistic practices across different eras and cultures. From Wolfgang Paalen’s innovative use of smoke to the unique imprints created by Yves Klein, it demonstrates how Boghossian’s work aligns with this legacy, enriching the history of smoke as an artistic medium. This exhibition explores the evolution of abstraction in Boghossian’s creations, a more lyrical evolution and a deconstruction by fire or pigment.

Boghossian’s body of work also engages in dialogue with artistic movements that have influenced modern art, paying tribute to the contributions of Expressionism, Abstract Expressionism, and the gestural techniques of Art Informel. The influences of these currents manifest in the smoky contours and spontaneous eruptions of colour and form that define Boghossian’s works.

His nuanced approach to repetition marks a central aspect of the exhibition. While it may appear to deviate from the concept of repetition, the works presented testify to a sophisticated exploration of the theme. Here, repetition transforms into a platform for variation, where recurring forms and motifs are explored with subtle differences, each variation en-riching a broader discourse on the dynamics of change and continuity in art and communication.


The artworks range from clearly defined smoke forms to abstract, smoky cityscapes, representing the shift in how societies communicate – from direct messages to nuanced and layered dialogues. These transitions parallel the evolution of smoke signals across cultures, shifting from simple alerts to complex messages with multiple meanings. ‘Smoke Signals’ holds an allegorical mirror up to our present, highlighting the challenges of communication in a world, riven with divides, wars, the turmoil caused by the climate crisis, fake news and AI, in which messages are prone to distortion and misinterpretation, and the context in which they are received can alter their meaning entirely.

Boghossian’s own uprooted personal journey is a focal point in the exhibition: from Aleppo through the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide to Beirut and finally settling in Belgium, the artist’s work reflects themes of displacement, a quest for connection, and complex narratives of identity and survival.

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Jean Boghossian at work, © Studio Boghossian

Like his other boundary-pushing pieces, Smoke Signals serves as a reflection and distillation of history – particularly his own family’s experiences of wars, genocide, and displacement. Boghossian’s grandfather’s escape to Syria from the Armenian massacre during World War One deeply influenced his artistic perspective. Born in 1949 in Aleppo, he initially worked in his family’s jewellery business while studying Economics and Sociology in Beirut. The Lebanese Civil War in 1975 led him to Belgium, and after enrolling in the Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels in 1988 he began exploring the use of fire in his creations, after 14 years of experimentation, having previously used blowtorches to make jewellery. It has become a distinctive hallmark of his style.

With his latest exhibition, viewers are invited to explore the nuances of communication, the beauty of transient messages, and the continuous challenge of finding clarity amidst the complexities of our societies.

“My smoke paintings tell a poetic story. I follow the flow and dream”

Jean Boghossian

Jean Boghossian’s forthcoming shows are:
• 17 March 2024 Abstract Writings, Abstract Thoughts, Wittockiana, Brussels
• 11 April – 31 December 2024 50 site specific artworks at UBP, Monaco
• May 2024 Art Busan, Korea
• 8 Oct – 30 Nov 2024 N Gallery Seoul, Korea
• 2024 Sotheby’s, Monaco

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