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Joel Fisher / MATRIX 111

August 7, 1987 - October 15, 1987

Untitled, 1987

Download the exhibition brochure (PDF).

Sculptor Joel Fisher's roots are in the minimal and conceptual movements of the late 60s and early 70s which favored elemental, nonobjective forms and emphasized the primacy of the idea in the art object. To probe the fundamental properties of the two-dimensional plane as a thing in itself, rather than as a support for a drawing or painting, Fisher began to make paper as his artwork. As Fisher wrote, "The fresh blankness of the paper evokes the perfect plane, a pure, available, weightless surface" (catalogue for Arnolfini Gallery exhibition).

Almost by accident, Fisher began noticing the tiny fibers left on the blank handmade paper by the felt blankets he used in the drying process. He chose one of these random linear shapes and drew it in a much enlarged version on the same page. This proved to be a fecund source of imagery, a way to tap the unconscious, as dreams are for Jonathan Borofsky (MATRIX 10), for example, and became Fisher's standard method for generating drawings. He often made the drawings (or apographs, as he terms them) in cycles, like letters of the alphabet or numbers. One such hundred-part numerical series, made over a period of four years, is included in the exhibition.

By 1979 Fisher was translating these linear elements into three dimensions, creating objects in bronze or wood that evoked things in the world-figures, hats, bottles-several of which are on view with their source drawings. By beginning with a nonreferential drawing and arriving at an associative object, he not only reversed the usual artistic practice, familiar to all art students, of making drawings from figures or objects, but also the typical process of abstraction.

Fisher is concerned with how vision functions. As he wrote in the
catalogue for his exhibition in Lucerne, "Something like imagination is at work in normal vision. This is how we compensate for the information we lack." Although a line can only suggest one aspect of an object, when it works, a sculpture by Fisher appears to be a logical, even inevitable, extension of the drawing.

The bronze works in the MATRIX exhibition all suggest the human figure, either in sensuous, volumetric form 'S' that recalls the biomorphic shapes of such early modernists as Brancusi and Arp, or in linear and energetic, Giacometti-like dancers, runners and walkers. Like Joel Shapiro, another sculptor who has revived interest in bronze as a contemporary sculptural material, Fisher can imbue even the simplest of forms with wit and emotion.

Fisher was born in Salem, Ohio, forty years ago. He received a B.A. from Kenyon College in 1969. During the 1970s, Fisher lived in Great Britain, spending 1973-74 in Berlin on a DAAD fellowship. He currently lives and works in New York.

Constance Lewallen

MATRIX is supported in part by grants from Mrs. Paul L. Wattis, the LEF Foundation, and the Alameda County Art Commission's County Supervisors' Art Support Program.