Vernon Fisher

Delahunty Gallery

Vernon Fisher’s combinations of literary texts and neo-photo-realist paintings question some of the expectations with which we approach narrative content. The artist cuts his texts directly into highly worked images of media personalities, parking lots, nondescript automobiles and scenes from his native Texas landscape; the integrated text deliberately challenges the clarity and sanctity of recognizable subjects. In one sense, the fusion of verbal and visual implies a continuation of esthetic concerns deriving from Cubist collage. Here, however, the issue is not manipulation of planes, but manipulation of content, which poses a threat to rational analysis.

Because the artist’s stories—combining autobiographical references and contemplative anecdotes—present characters who engage in meaningful actions without a sense of emotive conviction, these characters gnaw away at one’s psychological need for consistency and cognizable meaning. In The Tropics, for example. Fisher depicts the rear end of a car parked in the midst of a mysterious array of lights that dance impressionistically over a seemingly mundane parking lot. The visual image is offset by the text which introduces Sheila, a drunken dancer, who attempts to convey the story of her life—“moving dreamily through instances of forfeiture and regret as if she were talking to someone else.” The story concludes with the author and his companion Dave leaving the bar, with the latter “running toward a cemetery in order to remember his future.” While the relationship of text and image is only marginally logical, together they charge the banal with significance. Moreover, the artist’s characters become convincing manifestations of dreams, fantasies or irrational impulses.

In Dolphins, one of the most complex and challenging works exhibited, a figure gazing out over a boat manna is juxtaposed with a school of sharks painted directly on the gallery wall. The carefree brushstrokes used to portray these (smiling?) predators are a welcome relief from the tedium of the manna scene. The mind, trying to link the two images, invents stories that will bring them together. If such inductive processes are inspired, they are hardly fulfilling, for when we turn to the accompanying texts for clarification, doubt and anxiety are only enhanced—while the painting depicts sharks, the text questions, “Why it is that dolphins can be so happy? Is it because they have no hands?” Like the Zen Koan, which demonstrates the impotence of our discriminative and analytic efforts, Fisher’s lyrical, albeit disturbing, image-texts counter our demand for objective conclusions. In so doing, he invites a more intuitive approach to experience—even the possibility of gaining insight into the more mysterious capacities of the mind.

Lastly, Fisher’s ability to raise such issues within the context of everyday and common events comes as a refreshing relief from the sometimes excessive compulsion to separate the more lofty dimensions of reality from the banality of everyday life. Thus, these works allow us to once again be struck “Zen dumb” by the mystery of the ordinary.

Vernon Fisher