A young boy looking at one of Barbara Fisher’s abstract paintings asked her, “Is this some kind of code?” Although she’d never described her work that way before, she told him, “Yes, actually it is.”
And it’s not just kids who see things in Fisher’s imagery.
“It always [happens],” she says. “Sometimes [they see] silly things like dogs or faces or penises. … People often see really fascinating images that have been hidden even from me.” She jokingly describes her paintings as “really big Rorschach tests.”
Fisher says her artistic process is intuitive and organic. “One thing leads to another, so to speak. The painting guides me. There is always a point about halfway through when everything is chaos, and I have to move through and beyond it to a place where the painting works. … Most people don’t realize that painting can be a very painful process.
A painting often has to be composted … and/or turned inside out in order to bring it to completion.”
As a child, Fisher was always drawing. “But something really clicked when I went to the MOMA [Museum of Modern Art] in New York City when I was about 12. I saw paintings by Van Gogh, Gauguin, and the German Expressionists, and I understood that I could create my own world. And it didn’t have to look like anyone else’s world.”
Prior to moving to Asheville in 1998, Fisher had worked a lot of other jobs to help support her art. But once here, she became a full-time artist, renting space in Warehouse Studios in the River Arts District, where she still works.
Fisher’s early canvases employed more imagery. “My work was quite cerebral — lots of signs and symbols stemming from an interest in Jung and the collective unconscious. Gradually, I began to break the forms down and I became interested in abstraction. The work became less about iconic images and more about transforming interior narratives into a visual language.”
Her more recent Tangled Mapping paintings are complex but contemplative, chaotic but orderly, light and airy though layered. The images bring to mind aerial, city, or transit maps. They can also be seen as tangled thoughts, as portraying the brain’s mysterious circuitry, or the skeleton/internal forms of some forgotten species.
They can be either calming or exciting, depending on the projection of the viewer. Ice Age is part of her subseries about climate change, with the upper right “ice” moving down toward the warmer parts of the painting.
Fisher works in oil and wood panels and with acrylics on canvas. She also paints on Mylar, Yupo (a synthetic “paper” made of polypropylene), and with acrylic, ink, and pencil on other nontraditional surfaces.
“My work takes me many directions. I often tell people I didn’t become an artist to turn myself into a brand, but rather to explore and expand and evolve and continually discover.
“I enjoy jumping off cliffs into the unknown, even if it sometimes means a hard landing.”
Barbara Fisher, Asheville, Warehouse Studios, 170 Lyman St. in the River Arts District. Studio hours are noon-4pm Friday and Saturday or by appointment. Fisher will participate in the River Arts District Studio Stroll happening Saturday, Nov. 13 and Sunday, Nov. 14, 10am-5pm (riverartsdistrict.com). For more information, call 828-230-4177 or visit barbarafisher.com. (On Instagram: @fishcakenc)