Over Under Room: Matthew F Fisher Interview
Matthew F Fisher (b. 1976, Boston) received his BFA from Columbus College of Art and Design (1998) and his MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University (2000). He is the recipient of residencies and awards from the Pollock Krasner Foundation (2016), Yaddo, Saratoga Springs, New York (2015, 2007) and the New York Foundation for the Arts (2010), among others. Recent solo exhibitions include Into the Blue, Johansson Projects, Oakland, CA (2018) and Observable Universe, Taymour Grahne Gallery, New York, NY (2017). Group shows include the two artist exhibition Night Waves, with Casey Cook, at SHRINE, New York, NY (2018) and Pro Forma: Context and Meaning in Abstraction, curated by Dr Vittorio Colaizzi, Work Release, Norfolk, VA (2017). Fisher is represented by Taymour Grahne Gallery, London, UK. His solo show Strange Light is on view in the Over Under Room from October 19 - November 16, 2018.
Install shot from Matthew F Fisher’s solo show Strange Light
Over Under Room: Hi Matt!
Matthew F Fisher: Good day Team Pilgrim, thank you for this opportunity to talk about the work.
OUR: Can you tell us a bit about where you grew up, what you were into as a kid, and how you first got into making art? Did you come from an artistically-inclined family or did you grow up in an environment where that was encouraged?
MFF: I have drawn for as long as I can remember. My earliest memories are of drawing Disney cartoons on my father’s college chalkboards. Later, it was copying MAD magazines illustrations followed by crappy high school surrealism--hell, there was a summer I drew nothing but tennis shoes. I was blessed to have parents who encouraged my artistic adventures and early on enrolled me in 4H and Saturday classes at the Kalamazoo Institute of the Arts. The first half of my youth was spent in urban Boston and Minneapolis with lots of friends living on my block. We were always playing and riding bikes together. At age 9, my family relocated to a farm in rural Michigan. I spent many hours outside playing by myself, experiencing nature one-on-one, just occupying my own mental space. In hindsight, I see this as the formative years of my creative urge. It forced me to make something out of nothing for my own entertainment.
OUR: Was there a particular moment when you decided or knew you’d want to pursue a career as an artist?
MFF: It was the photography classes at the Kalamazoo Institute for the Arts that honed my ability to process the world into a complete “image”. The directness of black and white photography, of constantly looking, of mentally framing what I saw, figuring out the exposure, and then developing the film has had a lasting effect on my understanding of composition and balance within four edges of a the picture frame. Each roll of film was, in essence, 36 ideas that one could have over the course of an afternoon. If I was lucky, I would get one or two worth printing, a magical process unto itself. All those hours in the darkroom, physically handling the paper and developing the photo, always watching the clock, turning the enlarger on and off with my foot as I dodged and burned the image, started my lifetime appreciation of making and creating art with my own hands, even when machines and chemicals were deeply involved.
Song and Story - 2018, Acrylic on canvas, 19 x 15 inches
OUR: It’s interesting to observe the similarities and differences between your canvases and your works on paper, particularly with your approach to representing/portraying water, which can be such a tricky thing to render. Do your paintings on canvas usually start out as a sketch or a work on paper, or do you prefer to dive directly into a canvas?
MFF: The paintings and drawings have two very different vibes. The paintings act more like an epic saga, a novel with many chapters. The drawings are poems, fully thought out shorter versions. Both bodies of work are created through many, many layers of paint or ink, giving each work it’s unique richness of density. Still, the drawings act as independent thoughts, not necessarily sketches for paintings. I have found that translating the idea from a drawing to a painting prevents a growth and exploration that can only be found through the process of painting. A motif or idea found within the drawing can be the start of a new painting, but the seeing and feeling how the images play on the canvas is so important to the final work. Although the bodies of work are radically different, I appreciate your observations and understanding of their similarities. This is very important to me.
The Poetry of Saints - 2018, Ink and collage on toned paper, 6 x 8 inches
OUR: The scale and size of your work tends to vary from piece to piece and depending on medium. How do you decide on the scale of a piece and do you have a preference in terms of working large vs. small?
MFF: The drawings were mostly completed on found paper, particular the end pages of old books. That was the main factor in determining their scale. Books only come in certain sizes, after-all. But over the last year, I have returned to using art paper after becoming fed up the unpredictability of the found paper. I have tried to keep the sizes more unified over the years for the sake of consistency-- but as you can see in this show, that wasn’t fully the case.
The very last drawing I completed for the show was determined by the size of an old frame. I was never happy with the older drawing, so I used this as a chance to swap it out with a newer work. It was surreal to finish the drawing, Today and Tomorrow, one hour before we left for our redeye to NYC. It was even stranger to be knocking at my framer’s door in Brooklyn, Ulfig Projects, the next morning, just 4 hours after we landed, and to have Wes mount the new drawing in the old frame . “What, can’t find a framer in Los Angeles?”
Today and Tomorrow - 2018, Ink and collage on paper, 10 x 8 inches
OUR: It’s awesome that the whole family was able to make it out for the opening of this show. It was great meeting your son Ferdinand and seeing him run around the space and interact with your paintings. How’s being a father and how has it affected your art practice?
MFF: The short and honest answer is that it has caused be me more effective with my studio time. Being in the studio is already the most gluttonous thing one can do: alone, painting, just free to get lost in your thoughts and actions. That being said, fatherhood has enabled a deeper appreciation of my life away from the studio-- enhanced by watching Ferdinand grow every day and becoming more and more himself. Making art marks your days here on earth, and so does having a child. I am blessed to have both.
OUR: Can you elaborate a bit on the title of this show, ‘Strange Light,’ and how that plays into these particular paintings and where you’re at in your art-making/life these days? Was the light something you were particularly aware of when you moved from BK to LA? Also, how’s the light in your studio out there?
MFF: Coming up with a show title is always a struggle, trying to find words or a phrase that encapsulates an entire thought behind a body of work is damn near impossible. But yes, the light here in LA is so strange, so wonderful, it can transform the most mundane of subjects into a rich visual experience. I also enjoy that moment when I realize that it is magic hour in the evening (or morning). As the day grows darker, there’s this window of 5-15 minutes were the world is illuminated in a soft, warm, indirect light, as if the light originated from beneath your feet. In those fleeting minutes, I reflect on the day that was and the tomorrow to come. Since most of the works in the show involve suns, moons, stars, I felt the title was also a homage to this idea of light and creation.
My studio has a skylight, but no windows. Depending on the LAX flight patterns, an airplane’s shadow will occasionally pass directly overhead, casting a momentary shadow across the studio. At first, when the painting in front of me would go dark, I assumed I had blown a fuse, causing all the studio lights to go off. After many months of this, I have grown to love this man-made eclipse. It is a reminder that the world is always moving, people are coming and going, independent of whatever I am doing in my studio.
Install shot from Matthew F Fisher’s solo show Strange Light
OUR: Can you give the world a little insight into the artists who inspire you (whether it’s some contemporaries of yours or artists whose work you studied while in school)? Do you like to listen to music or radio while working in the studio? What have you been listening to lately?
MFF: The Chicago Imagist Roger Brown has long been my biggest artistic hero. His use of landscape painting as abstraction, of stacked and flattened space, pattern, and personal humor have excited me since my undergrad days. In a way, it took me 13 years after my BFA thesis show to figure out how to take what Brown did and make it my own. Outside of that, I am attracted to paintings that I can’t explain and that often look very different than my own work. I love painters who use paint: Gianna Commito, Elise Ferguson, Artist Chuckie, Alain Biltereyst, Morris Louis, Thomas Downing, Jim Lee, Rob Matthews, and Michele Hemsoth to name a few. Overwhelmingly, these are abstract painters, but I enjoy that. I take deep pleasure in contemplating their work, trying to reverse engine how they made what they made. Not knowing, in this strange way, is more powerful than knowing.
In the studio, it’s a lot of sports radio and NPR. I also listen to a lot of live sports on the radio, in particular baseball. Ted Leitner of the San Diego Padres is my studiomate, he calls one the smoothest games out there. Living in Los Angeles, my music game has been bolstered. So much great radio here. Garth Trinidad and Travis Holcombe of KCRW have introduced me to many new acts: Kevin Morby, Bombino, yaeji, Talaboman, Tonstartbandit, to name a few. And the label Sahel Sounds releases some of the greatest and rarest world music. Particular, Music from Saharan Cellphones is my absolute favorite driving soundtrack for bouncing around town. Especially the opening track by Group Anmataff gives one energy.
The White Sea - 2018, Ink and collage on paper, 10 x 7.5 inches
OUR: Final question(s): as you recently relocated from Brooklyn to LA, we’re wondering what in your opinion, is the best and worst thing about living in LA, and the thing you miss most and least about living in BK?
MFF: Driving is by far the worst part of living out here. It is a necessary evil in the sense that it’s how you get around. If living in NYC, one uses their iPhone earbuds to escape the outside world, here in LA, that headspace is the interior of the car itself. In a way, this is a perfect metaphor for the difference between both cities: more space, more air, more light, more time, more you.
Rarely does one have family that lives in NYC, so your close friends become extra special to you there. We miss those friends who are family to us. Social media and texting keeps you in touch easily, but are very poor substitutes for laughing and bending elbows in person. Also, there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about getting lunch at Kalustyan's in Murray Hill with my friend Ahmed. I miss the ease that is the world of New York City.
OUR: What’s next for you? Any shows on the horizon?
MFF: Upcoming shows included Soft Nature, a solo presentation of new paintings at OCHI Projects in Los Angeles, opening 12 January 2019 and running through 16 February. I will also have my first solo show in Europe later next year with Taymour Grahne Gallery in London.