54 Jane Fisher
There are several artists named Jane Fisher on the internet. One is a talented, if a bit 'primitive' painter from Thrupp, England with her own website here. But she's not the artist I'm showcasing today. Today's artist is Prof. Jane Fisher, who teaches art at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, California, near Berkeley. This artist, like Mary Whyte and Dale Kennington, paints portraits of Americans living their lives that, taken as a whole, creates a larger portrait of America (and other places she has visited), from her unique perspective. And where Mary's vision is more aspirational, and Dale's more reverential, Jane's view of her subjects, while fair and loving, is also a bit cutting. She paints exactly what's there, warts and all. Even if a figure is exceptionally handsome, she'll choose a moment when the sun's in his eyes, or staring eyes glazed at a TV. There's a critique in each of her works (sometimes mild, sometimes shocking) of the subjects and the cultures that created them (at times she references styles and advertisements of the 1950's). In this way, she is a Realist, in the same vein as Courbet and Manet - it isn't just a question of how she paints, but what she choose to show us and why.
Prof. Fisher explains on her website, "The ideas for my paintings emerge as emotions. My task is to turn those emotions into images. I do this by playing on the viewer’s empathy, sympathy, curiosity and sense of humor. My paintings are figurative, presenting people in varying degrees of self-awareness. I am interested in how people behave alone as well as how they present themselves to others when they want to make a specific impression. These are the two main contexts I have used in exploring this; presenting people in moments of isolation, and presenting them in performance.
"Ultimately, the figures are the metaphors for psychological states. Their body language conveys feelings of discomfort and vulnerability, anticipation and trepidation, solitude and melancholy. I seek out the right actors to portray these themes. In this way my work is collaborative. I rely on other people to express my ideas. In the end, however, it is my emotions that I want to convey through them.
All of Jane's paintings exhibit emotions, but they are portraits also, even if we don't learn the names of the figures, even if the work is fiction (like I hope the work above was fiction). She captures expressions that reveal the sitters' character, whether guarded or caught off guard. Quite often she paints people in hotels - either in the lobby, in their rooms, or by the pool. There's something metaphoric about that, like the Eagle's song 'Hotel California'. When you go to a hotel, you only bring what you can carry, so what you choose, what you wear, and how you present yourself says something about you - just as much as who you travel with. They're cold, impersonal, uncomfortable places, even if the beds are softer than at home and the decor is all selected by professionals. How her sitters react to this environment is telling.
Jane's gaze isn't limited to the US, either. She recently visited Vietnam, leading to a large number of new paintings, which she explains quite well in this statement:
"I am part of a generation of Americans born never not knowing of Vietnam. The on-going conflict there was as much a part of my childhood as Captain Kangaroo, Gumby, and The Monkees. The nightly body counts, the scenes of destruction on the evening news, and our parents’ expressions of anguish over such a pointless war was part of our daily routine.
"I’ll Take You There features work based on my travels in Vietnam, primarily the coastal town of Nha Trang. In recent years it has evolved into a premiere Russian tourist destination, a place where thousands flock all year around. The town has become a dialog between these two cultures. The signage is mainly in Vietnamese and Russian, with only the occasional bit of English. Russian visitors lounge on the beach, working diligently to achieve their perfect sunburns, breaking only occasionally to chase down a souvenir hat or some sunglasses. Meanwhile the locals go about the business of living their lives.
"To an American, Nha Trang can seem like a parallel universe, a Twighlight-Zone-esque tableau. One of the dominoes fell! They defeated us in war, and now they play host to other Godless Communists as they cavort on the beaches! Fifty years ago, one would have been hard pressed to imagine such a scenario. And yet, here we are. The reality is both more mundane and more pleasant. This Marxist dystopia includes lovely beaches, superb food, and many kind people. And in a strange plot twist, the Russians have become the Ugly Americans, rarely engaging with local culture, too absorbed in their own temporary escape. The juxtaposition of these two cultures meeting on a beach, as seen by an American, is the focus of this show."
Jane models forms in paint, with big blocky strokes, a bit similar to how Cezanne painted, but generally with more polish and accuracy. She writes of her style, "My use of paint is at once loose and precise so as to be visually satisfying without intruding upon the image. The medium and surface work to convey a sense that what is on display is frozen in significance. The element of craft implies authorship, but the lack of stylization suggests they are neutral documents. As the artist, my role is to step back to let the painting take the stage and let the viewer have the experience."
'Full Twist' 2008
I haven't found much about Jane's life, but I have contacted her and she's agreed to an interview, so stay tuned for more information. I do know from her website that she got her BFA from Ohio U., her MFA from the Inst. of Chicago, she's exhibited across the US, and has been since 1984.
'Ann at Temescal'
'Cull Canyon Girls'
'Expats, Diptych' 2011
'Boy in Surf, Da Nang'
'The Robertson Brothers'
'Bob & Chris'
'Steve & Mike at the Holiday Lodge'
'Dom & Seth in Cycling Clothes'
'Wesley & Junior'