Today I’m so thrilled to be able to share the work and insight of Brooklyn-based painter Matthew Fisher, whose landscape paintings harken back to a by-gone style while maintaining a mysterious and current attitude that explores and questions the connection — or boundary — between now and then, the real and the remembered. Minimal and yet detailed in the delicacy and methodical layering of the paint, Fisher’s canvases evoke a dreamy, even symbolic memory of the Atlantic, drawing on the “awkwardness” of the Hudson River School landscapes (compared to their European counterparts) and a playful testing of the boundaries of kitsch.
Check out the Q&A below!
Because this blog has an eye on early-career artists, I think it’s also important to get the viewpoint of those who have a few shows under their belts, and diverse perspectives on being an artist. You’ve exhibited all over the country and have had several solo shows at this point. What do you feel has been your biggest accomplishment so far?
To have been awarded a Pollock Krasner Fellowship this year and to attend YADDO for a second time in 2015 — both opportunities allowed me to focus on my work for significant chunks of time, building upon new ideas in rapid succession.
What do you feel is the most challenging aspect of being an artist?
Time is the hardest part, finding it. To live in New York you need money, and in this day and age you need benefits. I have a semi full time job art handling. I taught drawing on the college level but stopped after 5 years to dedicate that time to my studio. I try to get 20-24 hours a week in the studio.
What is your process like? How do you get started, spend a day in the studio, or come up with your ideas?
My studio days are set up to maximize my time there. People always ask “how long did that painting take?” It’s an unfair question as the answer is more acutely measured in layers of paint. The work has a density achieved only through these multiple layers. I want my shadows to have shadows — that micro thinking enables the most enjoyable painting I do. A runner’s high when one idea often leads to another; in the sense that once an image is made, why not try to do it as a vertical or backwards? When I was young(er), I assumed one had to reinvent a great idea with each painting. Now, I am excited about saying the same idea, but in a slightly different way. It helps me dive deeper into understanding my imagery.
Based on what you know now, is there anything you wish you would have known as an art student just getting started? What would you tell your younger self?
The same thing I tell myself now: keep laughing. The comical can be treated serious. Simple can be read to be complex. Rarely can both go the other way and be as deep. The ideas put forth in this manner allow for the viewer to grow them and find their own answers. Learn to shut up, don’t say too much, leave air in the room.
I notice a few recurring objects that take on a seemingly symbolic quality in your paintings, such as gulls and waves. Can you tell me a bit about that? Where did your interest in this particular landscape concept come from?
I spent summers as a child on Atlantic Ocean and now my parents live on the east shore of Lake Michigan. When I started this body of work I gave myself the simple goal of making a painting about nothing. Nothing is never nothing. But the water line of the horizon, with the sun above and sand below seemed to be about as close to a magical zen moment I could think of. The landscape become an excuse to paint an open narrative. There were no cars, clothing, or other hints at a time frame. Could these be moments before man, Sunday on the beach, or the day after we all leave this earth? This openness allowed for a timelessness and universality, an interesting place where I pull a lot of energy from within the paintings.
Who or what are some of your major influences?
Roger Bowrn, the Chicago painter: it took me 13 years to figure out how to make something new out of his incredible vision. I look at a lot of painters, from he classics such as Milton Avery, Georgia O’Keeffe, Neil Welliver, Marsden Hartley, Stuart Davis, John Wesley, among others. I also pull from abstract painters such as Barnett Newman, John McLaughlin, Shirley Jaffe, Thomas Downing, Kenneth Noland, Morris Louis, Adolph Gottlieb, Alain Biltereyst, and Ruth Root. Folk artist greats such as Elijah Pierce, Joseph Yoakum, Popeye Reed, Chuckie Williams, Sister Gertrude Morgan, and Reverend Anderson Johnson — their true, unique, uncluttered, direct vision and desire to get information down, however they needed to, has for the longest time excited me to no end. I also have a solid crew of peers whose work helps me process my own: Rob Matthews, Michele Hemsoth, Deise Kupferschmidt, Amy Lincoln, John Dilg, Kevin McNamee-Tweed, Chris Bogia, Matthew Kirk, Margaux Ogden, and Kyle Breitenbach to name a few. I enjoy work that for the most part doesn’t look like mine. Artists who use paint to create a personal vision and are not afraid of humor.
Your paintings reflect what you’ve expressed as a by-gone era of American painting. What first interested you in this genre? Has it ever been problematic for you to be associated with a particular “passe” painting style?
I am an old fashioned man. Retro. Vintage. I enjoy the awkwardness the Americans brought to painting in the Hudson River School era. They weren’t slick and polished in the European tradition of salons and academies. We made paintings. And that’s what I do. The idea of the “passe” excites me, while kitsch bores me. Too nostalgic. Too culturally empty. Still, to be able to go right up to being kitsch, reach out and tickle its nose before you get slapped in the hand? That’s the excitement and the difference between the two. I have long been drawn to what other’s couldn’t explain. Hell, at times I couldn’t explain it myself. This meant I had to think about it, to find a reason inside why. My advice has always been to keep laughing. At the very least, perhaps one person in this world takes pleasure in what you’ve made — even if that person is you.
Do you have any upcoming exhibitions or projects that I can share?
I am very excited to be showing in Arkansas for the first time in the group show In Which We Dwell opening at the University of Arkansas on October 13. I am also thrilled to be included in Pro Forma: Context and Meaning in Abstraction, curated by Dr. Vittorio Colaizzi opening next year at Work Release in Norfolk, Virginia.
Anything else you would like to add?
Make a lot friends, make even more acquaintances, and make very few enemies.
Find more information and images of Fisher’s work at matthewffisher.com.
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