About 6 years ago I was leafing through an art book and I found an image that captivated me. It was a small reproduction of Reading Baudelaire by Sandra Fisher 1983, a portrait of a man reading by a fire. The book Reported Sightings by John Ashbery contained only two sentences about the artist; it was merely a mention. For the years that followed this image became both a talisman of sorts and a source of irritation. At the time I was trying to make a change in my own work and this image became important to me because it had the qualities I was searching for in my paintings. This little portrait was brightly colored without being sugary. Directly observed, it seemed to be painted quickly, in a single session, the canvas below showing through providing light.
The drawing was confident and strong, not clunky. Although it paid homage to a tradition it was not regressive. In a word it had a freshness that I desired (in my own work). This little reproduction became even more vital to me because it provided nourishment I was not getting in the galleries. Being that it was figurative, direct and fresh when at the time it seemed I was seeing a lot labor intensive funky abstraction (by which I mean a vein of abstract painting with a dash of irony and pinch of pop culture reference). And so this unassuming and straightforward little portrait fortified and inspired me. The source of my annoyance came at not finding any of her work to look at in person or even any more reproductions. Numerous internet searches over a couple of years yielded little information except a listing of her untimely death (1994), that she had been an American expat in London and information about her grieving and far more conspicuous husband R.B. Kitaj. Some relief finally came in an annual Art in America listing of artists and their representation. This finally led me to David Cohen at the Gallery at the NY Studio School. There he let me look at some rare reproductions. He assured me that my difficulties were understandable as the galleries where she had showed were mostly in London and defunct.
He also told me that the NYSS were to have a show of her work in a year a half. And so I continued on with my work, through which I discovered the merits of working alla prima in natural light, a big change for me, as I had been a night painter who worked my paintings over many sessions. However, the more I moved forward the more I became convinced that this was the right way for me to work. All the time I held the idea of this little reproduction in the back of my head and waited for the exhibition. As time passed the idea of the painting changed in my mind just as a story might change consciously or unconsciously as it is told over the course of years. Whatever the difference between my idea and my subsequent viewing of the show is almost irrelevant. The little reproduction and its idea had served its purpose to create a spark. Maybe I am only able to say that now that my curiosity has finally been satisfied. That being said I urge anyone interested in fresh, luscious and juicy figure painting to see the show while it is still up, who knows when you might get the chance again? The show has a wealth of information about the artist and her life in art and Mr. Cohen deserves kudos for mounting the show. Curiously, the image that is now caught in my head is Lee Friedlanderâ€™s portrait of Sandra Fisher drawing in her skirt and heels. It might be a crush.
An American Abroad: Sandra Fisher and her School of London Friends
March 30-May 13, 2006
Gallery open every day 10-6pm
New York Studio School
8 west 8th St NYC
212 673 6466
Kerry Law is a painter living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn
image: Sandra Fisher David Cohen Reading 1992, oil on canvas, 40 x 30 inches, Collection of Max Kitaj (c) Estate of Sandra Fisher