Monday, February 21, 2011

Vernon Fisher

Who says a painting can't include text?

Songs have lyrics.  Music has videos.  Books have illustrations.

Fort Worth artist Vernon Fisher's paintings have text and a lot more.  I had the opportunity to hear Fisher lecture at the Fort Worth Modern Art Museum on 26 October 2010.  As is my habit at these lectures, I purchased the subject book about his work and had him sign it prior to the lecture.  Only now have I had a chance to read it.

By education Fisher is both a writer and a painter.  And he has taught painting.  But his works, including painting, collage, sculpture, and installation, have been exhibited worldwide.  In general his works include elements from a variety of sources: text from other works, original text, pop culture imagery like Mickey Mouse, maps, graph paper.  The point, like most postmodernists, is for the viewer to become an integral part of the work as interpreter of an often ambiguous message delivered in fragments from dispersed sources.  Contrast this with modernist works where the viewer is passive and consumes the message delivered by the artist. 

Vernon Fisher, Private Africa, 1995

Fisher's work delivers on his promise. You do find yourself trying to figure out exactly what's going on in a piece, what it means, an how all the disparate elements can be strung together and rearranged into a linear tale.   By contrast, when I stand in front of a Rothko or an Innes it's more a matter of determining how the painting makes you feel.  Admittedly, I am biased toward Fisher's canvas-oriented works as opposed to his sculptures and installations.  But you can't discount them entirely because sometimes it's only after viewing the entirety of a group of works, walking through and around them, and seeing them from many angles does the message start to clarify.

I don't want to get too hung up on the messages and run the risk of mistaking the absurd for the profound and vice versa.  But it's not hard to see a painting of Mickey Mouse, pixelated around the edges with the scaffolding underneath visible and with a stylized photograph of an empty swimming pool superimposed on his head, and relate that to Fisher's opinion that Mickey is a likable but the least complex of the Disney characters.

If you have the opportunity to see Fisher's work at a gallery near you, I recommend it.

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