Interview with Andrew Fish
Being & Feeling (Alone, Together)
Spring 2020 – Virtual Exhibition
Artists in Being & Feeling (Alone, Together) explore embodiment, emotion, and being: how we make our way through the world, full of feeling, as solitary individuals and together with others.
Andrew Fish is one of nine artists in this exhibition. His paintings address the complexities of the human condition and our urge to provide a narrative framework to make sense of our experiences. Fish lives in Somerville, Massachusetts and teaches at Massachusetts College of Art and Design and Lesley University.
Q: Can you talk a bit about your painting process? Do you start your paintings with unconscious abstractions as a way to create new fresh images through the stimulation of the unconscious mind? Or are you adapting those practices of frottage and decalcomania and random image generating as a creative tool which you then work with your interpretation of the figure in contemporary spaces and digital photographs and illustrations?
A: Both. I make the abstract underpaintings without knowing what the final image is going to be. This allows me to have a free-flowing experience with abstraction. Sometimes it’s emotional and other times it’s purely decorative. It’s an opportunity to really play. I experiment with a lot of unconventional tools and try to explore oil paint in ways I wouldn’t otherwise. I’m trying to surprise myself. It’s the best thing an artist can do. Once I decide which image to use the abstraction becomes an obstacle I must navigate. More surprises ensue while I add, subtract, and reconfigure the composition. I’m always interested in how much or how little an image needs to be rendered in order to be read by the viewer. A few marks can go a long way in building a picture.
Q: In an interview published in the Boston Voyager, you mention your love of music and having been in a band; what music or other sounds do you think would complement your paintings? Do you find that teaching art is at all like the collaboration you enjoyed in being part of a band?
A: I do love music. I usually listen to music when I work so I think my art can be complemented with almost any soundtrack. Teaching does feel collaborative at times, like being in a band, and there are similar conflicts, camaraderie, and communication needs. But inevitably we’re all trying to make our own work so there isn’t one shared vision that you might find in a band. I have to remember this in order to be more open minded about what my students bring to the studio.
Q: Given the chance, who would you like to collaborate with? For example, a sculptor who could create 3d pieces in response to your work? A theatre producer who could add lighting experts to your next exhibit or dancers to perform in response to your paintings?
A: Bonsai Master.
Q: We’ve heard you worked at the Jim Henson Company. Do you have any stories or lessons from your time there?
A: It was an amazing experience on many levels but one thing that impressed me immediately was this notion that something so creative and fun could exist in a corporate environment. Jim was a brilliant artist but also a very good businessman. He was dead by the time I worked there but I knew Jane and the kids, who were all involved on some level. Jim’s son Brian was CEO while I worked there and ran the company from LA. I was in the NY Design studio and had to work around multiple time zones including LA and London. At times Henson felt like a stiff entertainment corporation only concerned with brand licensing and market prominence, and then you’d walk into a studio and see Miss Piggy hanging out in a robe, waiting for her next photoshoot. It was surreal. I met wonderful people at Henson, including the puppeteers and builders. I also met several Muppets, as you can imagine, and have never outgrown my fondness for those characters.
Q: How has the use of technology and printmaking influenced your art making? You mention using digital photographs in your works. You mainly work from your own photographs, but do you ever work from found images? How do you choose the photographs that will become part of your painting? Do you use just one element or detail, or the composition as a whole?
A: Printmaking has been influential throughout my life. My parents ran a print shop that was mostly letterpress but they also produced silkscreens for commercial use. When computers disrupted the printing business my family folded the shop. Ironically, years later I would become a computer technician and survive as an IT guy. This was the Golden Age of tech and I was heavily influenced by the digital atmosphere. Inevitably it seeped into my art by way of process and aesthetics. Now it mostly exists as a conceptual element in a final painting, but I still use digital tools to generate imagery. Sometimes I will use someone else’s photograph, but it’s rare. The composition of a painting is usually determined by some aspect of a digital photograph but I edit and delete feely.
Q: You cite the ubiquitous-ness of digital photography in the art world and how you combine it with a more painterly slower exploration of that kind of image, light and figures as a contemporary interpretation of presenting the figure of today in painting. Can you talk more about how this idea came to be?
A: I’m an artist that used to make drawings in preparation for a painting. I worked from life models, landscape, and still life. Very traditional. But I liked showing my hand in the original interpretation of the subject matter. After working in technology and witnessing the rise of social media and ubiquitous picture-taking in the world I thought about how imagery is mediated through technology, and that these platforms hosting images were a new form of looking. And that was the look I wanted to start my paintings with. I removed my hand from the original interpretation and placed it in the painting that happens afterward. The visual language of photography – in online image sharing – became a new starting point for the painting. Working with the figure and creating commentary on the human experience has been in the work from the beginning, but after the dominance of digital technology in society it seemed even more poignant. Or at least relevant to the time I’m living in. For me, observing how the world changes continuously, and how people change with it (or don’t) is an endless pool of inspiration to create from. Compounding that with digital technology and online living has magnified it into a reality unavoidable for anyone making art today.
Interview conducted by Jennifer Benn:
Jennifer Benn has been a Lamont Gallery attendant since 2015. She is also a professional painter with a studio at the Button Factory in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. She earned her MFA in painting from Syracuse University and has led programs for students to study art and culture in Ireland at the Burren College of Art. Jennifer teaches abstract painting at Maine College of art and offers private lessons at her studio.