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Art People: Andreas Fischer draws on the experiences of others



Painter Andreas Fischer makes copies--or in some cases, copies of copies--of people's doodles or sketches. Now 30, he was inspired to do this while in graduate school, partly by an essay by art historian David Summers, who argued that context is a work's meaning: an equestrian statue, for instance, should be seen in terms of who carved it, its materials, and the circumstances surrounding its production.

"The first thing I did was take a doodle that I'd made on a Friday night when I was kind of feeling sorry for myself and didn't have anything to do, and I tried to socialize that doodle," he says. "I got 100 people over the course of about a year to agree to redraw it for me. I stretched a big canvas that I guessed was the right size, but I only got 30 back." So he used carbon paper to copy those 30 into the lower left corner--the rest of the canvas was blank. He called the piece Friday Night Doodle Redrawn by 100 People (Unfinished).

Born in South Dakota in 1971, Fischer lived in Butte, Montana, until he was six, then moved to Iowa and later Indiana when his father, a minister in the United Church of Christ, changed congregations. Beginning college as a premed student, he switched to art and transferred to the School of the Art Institute. "I wanted to be hard-core about learning about the most sophisticated level of painting," he says. "So I got really reductive, doing black-and-white-and-gray line paintings, trying to understand how things would work when everything was in the visual relationships."

Fischer decided on grad school at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where the approach is supposedly more conceptual and "people were thinking about the issues behind the work." When he arrived in the fall of 1997, "it seemed to me that there was no point in making formal exercises anymore." Then he stopped painting entirely: "I felt I shouldn't have been in grad school, because I didn't have a direction and everyone else did."

Fischer's next piece after Friday Night Doodle had its beginnings when he and his girlfriend at the time were visiting his family, and his mom brought out something she called "the envelope," which contained pictures of his past girlfriends--"about 14 or 15" of them. His girlfriend said, "I don't want to end up in the envelope," and they had an argument. Months later Fischer asked her to make sketches of the photos. He liked her drawings ("I sort of had a weakness for them formally") but wondered if she was intentionally drawing the girls in an unflattering manner. In his Drawings of My X-Girlfriends by My Current Girlfriend, Made With My Current Girlfriend's Lipstick, he tried to make the size of each redrawn sketch correspond to the time he'd spent with that woman.

Now Fischer's getting a fair amount of press for an artist his age, but he's not very happy with critics who praise only the conceptual side of his projects: even though he's usually copying drawings made by others, Fischer wants his work to be "visually interesting." On the other hand, when the Tribune's Alan Artner focused on the visual in a review of Fischer's current show, he found the work "saccharine," likening it to greeting cards.

For the exhibit Fischer made large paintings from small colored-pencil sketches his father did for him while backpacking in the Uinta Mountains of Utah. ("He's always been trying to understand why I would pursue this art thing.") Fischer didn't want to reproduce them exactly on canvas, hoping instead to explore the differences between the two versions. He preserved some elements, like spatial relationships, but observed that enlarging the sketches changed how they'd be perceived: the empty space between the lines had greater impact, making the paintings "less intimate." Trying to "work intuitively, experimenting with the paintings as they were happening," Fischer chose colors to approximate his father's but also to "make the colors work together." Overall he wanted to make the paintings "somewhat unacceptable," even weird.

"My desire for these pictures," he says, "was to make something that seemed off but was also appealing, so that viewers might say, 'Those trees are strange but I like them.' I've always sort of been attracted to things that other people find boring. Painting my father's drawings isn't that interesting on its own--the context or process and the visual images are meant to be equal parts to the work and to play off against each other. I don't want them to not work at all visually, but I wouldn't want them to work so well visually that you wouldn't care about their context. That would also be a failure."

The show "High Uintas" can be seen, along with two earlier Fischer paintings, at Zolla/Lieberman Gallery, 325 W. Huron, through July 6. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 to 5:30; call 312-944-1990 for more information.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Saverio Truglia.

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