Art

Imagining the Uncanny Life of a Sculptor’s “Awkward Creatures”

R.M. Fischer’s lamp sculptures are like an uncanny assembly of anthropomorphic creatures that might abruptly move on their own.

R.M. Fischer, “RMF6489” (2017), vinyl, thread, polyester fiberfil, fabric, steel, hardware, brass, electric light, 59 x 45 x 19 in (all images courtesy the artist and Nina Johnson Gallery)

MIAMI — For years, R.M. Fischer worked with bronze and metal, crafting sculptures and lamps that were at once midcentury-sleek and science-fiction silly. Every slick, steel dome or smoothly curved base was buttressed by a funny pot, a colander, a tassel, a pock-marked lampshade, all in dun, mild hues. Much of his early work was large-scale, public, and functional, too; he made gates, archways, and, in 1999, was developing a new flight tower for the Miami International Airport, a project that was annulled following September 11.

In color and texture, these structures are a far cry from the work he began to produce in the 2000s. In spirit, however, the playful mien remained, as his sculptures morphed into plush humanoid forms — the bright, protuberant beings, exploding with strange shapes (bulging eyes, disoriented tongues), might’ve kept his aforementioned lamps in their own homes, had they been brought to life and given the choice.

R.M. Fischer: Lampworks installation view

In R.M. Fischer: Lampworks at Nina Johnson Gallery, Fischer returns to Miami, this time not to complete a project but to showcase a new one. Here, both of his styles merge in a set of sculptures made over the last year, and they are “lampworks” only in the most literal sense — the bulbs mostly face the floor, their light unnoticeable in an otherwise illuminated room.

R.M. Fischer, “RMF9576” (2017), vinyl, thread, polyester fiberfil, fabric, steel, hardware, brass, electric light, 77 x 26 x 25 in.

The sculptures are abstract amalgamations of tightly hewn, crisscrossed steel — in silver, ketchup-red, deep blue — and shaped roughly like steeples, squat squares, headless saddled ponies, or nothing at all. Propped up on angled legs or spheres that are as colorful and bulbous as tennis balls, they’re draped with bricolages of fabric: patchworked cloth and vinyl, plump circles, and swaths of linen thickly stitched with purple and yellow. The loose threads are always dangling, as if sewn haphazardly and in jest.

Viewed from a distance, their nebulous quality suddenly takes shape, and they become an uncanny assembly of anthropomorphic creatures. Like children dressed as makeshift ghosts, some of the lamps seem to be raising imaginary arms beneath their fabric cloaks. Stripping these sculptures of the lopsided eyeballs and slippery vinyl tongues of his previous soft works does nothing to assuage the fear that Fischer’s creations might abruptly move on their own.

R.M. Fischer, “RMFDrawing34” (2017), archival board, pencil, and oil paint marker, 32 x 40 in.

On either side of the exhibition are two pencil and oil paint drawings of what appear to be oddly shaped, freaky statuettes. In their gibbous anthropomorphism, I assumed they were derived directly from the lamps. I wasn’t completely mistaken — Fischer began drawing at the same time he started making his soft sculptures, and created his 2-D images based on scanned photographs of them. However, his main source of inspiration for these was abstract modernist sculpture. “Once I have a rough sketch on the board, I forget about the original image and begin to manipulate the drawing using oil-based paint markers and pencil,” he explained over email. “I add figurative and facial characteristics along with certain signs or symbols that are associated with my own sculpture.”

R.M. Fischer, “RMF78943” (2017), vinyl, thread, polyester fiberfil, fabric, steel, hardware, brass, electric light, 65 x 42 x 22 in.

In Fischer’s colorful abstractions, there are traces of Yayoi Kusama, Pop Art, and children’s cartoons. However, his lamps and drawings, replete with life and communing with each other, more effectively recall a warm, glowing rendition of the unabashed “rumpus” scene in Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, during which the “wild things” gnash their teeth and dance and play with abandon. At the exhibition’s opening, I briefly met the artist, and told him, “They look like little creatures.” “They are!” he replied, adding, “Awkward creatures. We have to embrace our own awkwardness and love it. They’re learning to love themselves.”

R.M. Fischer: Lampworks continues at Nina Johnson Gallery (6315 NW 2nd Avenue, Miami) through October 14.

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