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The Story-teller Paints a Book

Vernon Fisher - Tutor to a Lunatic

Vernon Fisher   Tutor to a Lunatic   1996   oil and blackboard
slating on wood, porcelain knobs   102 x 84 inches
Image Courtesy of Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

Vernon Fisher’s work lies in space where images exist, overlap, relay and even suggest narrative but they don’t necessarily align in logical coalescence. In many ways this has been and continues to be the direction his work has taken over the last 30 years. I have been a fan of his ever since I was introduced to his work at Laura Carpenter’s gallery on Cedar-Springs back in the late Seventies. He was writing more stories back then (a holdover from his college days as a student of English Literature).

He later changed his major to Art. So it seems logical that his airbrushed realism included words that he literally sanded through the canvas. The stories they told were intriguing and mysterious and made you wonder what they had to do with the image they were defacing. He would later go on to enlarge this format to entire sheetrock walls with the cut-out letters littering the floor where they dropped.
 

Vernon Fisher - Stickchart Navigation

Stickchart Navigation, 1983   acrylic, oil, and shells on laminated paper, wood, and metal   94 x 272 inches
Image Courtesy of Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

The retrospective at the Modern in Fort Worth is in some ways a letdown, especially for avid fans, but for those of you who might not know much about this extraordinary artist, this is the best show in town. I just want to highlight two works that I had never seen before that I think are worth mentioning.

The first one, “Tutor to a Lunatic,” greets you as you enter the second floor gallery. It is a roundish blackboard globe of a night sky with longitudes and latitude lines crisscrossing an image of a skeletal torso complete with Forties-style porcelain faucet handles labeled hot and cold. I assume they were humorously added to allow the painting’s secrets to pour out on the viewer.

Fisher has used water and water-related imagery in many previous works. He uses it here as an object parachuting into a crimson ocean. It seems to take on a different meaning each time he uses it. As a side note the curator elected to place the work on the back wall near the top of the stairs, so as you ascend, the piece rises into view like a dark moon on the horizon.
 

Vernon Fisher - Boat Island

Vernon Fisher   Boat Island   1991   enamel on metal, soundtrack, cut wall
Image Courtesy of Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
 

The other surprising work is the installation at the far end of the museum. It consists of four very large cutout letters positioned across the entire length of the 30- foot sheet rock wall. They spell K O N G. The remnants of the cutout letters and their metal supports litter the floor as though a wrecking ball had removed them.

Occasionally, sounds of people talking, sirens, and randum noise interrupted the silence. The sounds come from speakers hidden in the wall. The lighting is dim and moody, and you feel as though you were filing past a tragic event. Is this a warning of a calamity to come? You never really know …and that’s the story-telling ambiguity that is Vernon Fisher’s trademark.

Vernon Fisher - Man Cutting Globe
Vernon Fisher   Man Cutting Globe   1988   acrylic on wall   78 x 74.5 inches
Image Courtesy of Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and UT Press
 

The rest shows a variety of his early cutout word paintings, blackboard works and wall installations. It has something for everyone, especially if you are not familiar with Fisher's work. For those of you who are, the experience may be a lot like a walk down memory lane — a lane that may abruptly land you in The Twilight Zone.



Vernon Fisher   Kmart Conceptualism is at The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth through January 2
See writer Norman Kary's DallasArtsRevue Supporting Member page to see his art, too.

 

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