Joel Fisher
Untitled 1981–2

Artwork details

Joel Fisher born 1947
Date 1981–2
Medium Wax on glass and 3 works on paper, graphite, on board
Dimensions Support: 448 x 1737 x 155 mm
Acquisition Purchased 1982
Not on display

Catalogue entry

Joel Fisher born 1947

T03445 Untitled 1981-2

Three cast wax sculptures on glass shelf and three pencil drawings on hand-made paper mounted on board; dimensions of sculptures 130 x 75 x 90 (5 1/8 x 3 x 3 1/2), 53 x 51 x 213 (2 1/8 x 2 x 8 3/4), 140 x 90 x 60 (5 1/2 x 3 1/2 x 2 3/8); dimensions of drawings 158 x 154 (6 1/4 x 6 1/16), 160 x 160 (6 1/4 x 6 1/4), 160 x 162 (6 1/4 x 6 3/8); overall dimensions of drawings as mounted 435 x 775 (17 1/8 x 30 1/2); overall dimensions of work as displayed 448 x 1737 x 155 ( 17 5/8 x 68 3/4 x 6 1/8)
Not inscribed
Purchased from Nigel Greenwood Inc. (Grant-in-Aid) 1982
Exh: Joel Fisher, Sculptures, Watercolours, Etchings, Nigel Greenwood Inc., April-May 1982 (no cat.)
Lit: Joel Fisher, ‘Haddock's Eyes', in Joel Fisher, Between Two and Three Dimensions, Drawings and Objects since 1979, exh. cat., Kunstmuseum, Lucerne 1984, repr. p.35. (detail)

This entry in based on a conversation between the compiler and the artist held in January 1988. Joel Fisher made his first three-dimensional works in 1979. Before this, he was chiefly known for installed and drawn works using hand-made paper. Fisher started making hand-made paper in 1969 and has since generally worked on his own paper. In 1975 he re-pulped all his unsold works in a paper vat and formed these into 420 uniform sheets of hand-made paper. (The sheets were exhibited as a major installation in Fisher's one-man exhibition at Stadtisches Museum, Monchengladbach in 1975, and subsequently, at the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford in 1977.)

The starting points for Fisher's drawings and their extensions into sculpture are the, at first, almost imperceptible small hairs or bits of fibre embedded in the surface of the paper. The artist selects a hair, or an accidental configuration of hairs, which he copies in pen or pencil on a larger scale on the same sheet of paper - a process which he has compared to the artist's traditional transcription exercise. According to Fisher, he arrived at this procedure by accident:

For some time I had noticed the little hairs on the paper - I noticed lots of things about the paper that I wouldn't ... that I didn't point out. I kept quiet about them, and that seemed enough. Then one day I was sitting at my desk and there was a little scrap of my paper beside me and on it was this funny little hair. I just doodled it. Absolutely unconsciously. I drew a copy of the hair on the paper. Several days later I noticed it, and I handed it to a friend, who was a dancer, and she danced the pattern on the floor. I took that as a really good omen and started pursuing it. I learned more about them by doing them (Joel Fisher and Robin White, ‘Joel Fisher', View, vol.3, July 1981 p.18).

The artist has called these hairline drawings on paper, ‘apographs', which Fisher describes in a letter to the compiler dated 14 August 1988: ‘the term "Apograph" is really a complicated word for a copy, but with a subtle sense that makes it more accurate for our purposes. "Apo-" is a prefix that carries with it a sense of separation ... "standing off or away from each other, detached". cf. Apocalypse, Apogee, Apotheosis ...'. The artist also included the following definitions taken from the Oxford English Dictionary 1971:

Apo-pref.; repr. Gr. ... off, from, away; quite. 1. In compounds already formed in Gr., or others analogous to them. 2. In modern scientific words, not on Gr. analogies, with sense of ‘standing off or away from each other, detached, separate,' as apocarpous.

Apograph ... [ad. (perh. through Fr. apographe) Gr ... a copy, f. ... to write off, copy.] An exact copy or transcript. 1601 HOLLAND Pliny (1634) II. 546 The counterfeit taken from this table and made by it (which kind of pattern the Greekes call Apographon. 1656 BLOUNT Glossogr., Apograph, a copy written out of another pattern; also an Inventory of ones goods. 1875 POSTE Gaius Pref. 8 An apo-graph or facsimile edition of the Veronese MS. 1878 GARLAND Genesis Pref. 8 Not from the original manuscripts, but from the apographs. Apographal, a. Obs. rare-1. ... Of the nature of an apograph; copied. 1752 LEE Diss. Theol. I. 104 (L) Parallel places-nowhere else extant but in these apocryphal or apographal pieces.

Fisher ‘recreates' his drawing in three dimensions, on a larger scale, choosing what for him appears to be the most sympathetic material for the task, bronze, stone, plaster, wood or, in the case of T03445, wax. The outlines of the small drawings, which are themselves copies of original faults in the paper, and which may appear informal or even insubstantial, provide the contours of the larger works in three dimensions. The similarities between the drawings and the sculptures are obvious but the solid objects also emphasise the artist's process of selection when making a representative work. Fisher has to imagine the secondary contours of the sculptures, based on a logical extension of the information he has received from the drawings. Drawings and sculptures have generally but not necessarily been exhibited alongside one another.

One of the early exhibitions of objects similar to T03445 and their related drawings was at Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol (Substance and Accident, Colin Crumplin and Joel Fisher, Sept.-Oct. 1981), the first being at Nigel Greenwood Inc., (Joel Fisher Sculptures, Oct.-Dec. 1979 no cat.). Each artist had a separate catalogue and, in his, Fisher described his process of transmitting an image from two to three dimensions:

When I make a sheet of paper I do it simply and conventionally. The fresh blankness of the paper evokes the perfect plane, a pure, available, weightless surface. Physical paper and perfect plane, object and ideal, coincide until the moment that a few dark hairs are noticed clinging to the surface of the paper. These are tiny events but our attention magnifies them.

These new forms have not been derived from a place or a history. They are spontaneous, various and abundant. Out of a number of possibilities I choose one and draw it. Then again and again until a large inventory of forms is recorded. From that point on the new figures are part of our world. There is the opportunity, perhaps the duty, to give them an open reading. They are not about nature but as nature. I take them as fundamentals, either as primitive notation, or as nature itself ...

When new forms enter an old world they will always be seen through the conventions and traditions already established ...

Translating three dimensions into two is one of the great and favoured accomplishments of civilization. Until recently there was an established sequence all art students had to follow when learning to draw: in the beginning they copied two dimensional works such as older drawings or prints, only later could they advance to making their own drawings from a three dimensional world ...

The objects which I've made to accompany the drawings appear to be their logical extensions, a confident evolution towards permanence and weight. At the same time the drawings also seem to be descriptive of one particular aspect of the object. This double role is impossible: the drawing cannot perform both roles at the same time. The unity of the two elements begins to break apart.

Despite the obvious relationship between the two elements, they each ask for a separate set of rules. The criteria for one are not the criteria for the other. They belong to different worlds and possess different sensibilities and potentials. They maintain separate points of view which demand different attitudes from the viewer. Divided internally, the work also divides our attention. It establishes within itself a double standard ...

Although the drawing provides the first suggestion of the object, it cannot provide enough information to make the translation into three dimensions. More information must be supplied. The object is more than a single view. Eventually the three dimensional form agrees with the drawing along only one of several possible approaches. This angle clarifies the relationship in which both object and drawing bond. It suggests that ‘truth' is a matter of perspective. This is an external evaluation which determines that one profile is valued higher than others, even though by the standards of the object itself there may be no grounds for preference.

The drawing claims a single point of control, disclaiming all others. It also determines an ‘ideal' viewing point. Even though it is sometimes inaccessible this is a real place that exists within the space of the room. With this invisible aspect the sculpture has extended beyond its physicality into an empty point in space ...

There are characteristics in common with all forms of translation. The gaps between one syntax and another have to be filled. Certain assumptions are made. Sometimes in the process something new is inadvertently added to the old texts.

In the process of translating single drawings from two into three dimensions there is a stranger, unexpected element which enters the course (Joel Fisher, Joel Fisher, exh. cat., Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol 1981, pp.5-12).

T03445 consists of six elements; three small hollow wax objects, resembling unevenly contoured bottles or vials and three drawings, now mounted together in one frame.

When first exhibited at the Nigel Greenwood Gallery, the ‘bottles' were installed to the left of the drawings, on a narrow glass shelf supported on metal brackets. Each drawing was framed separately. Since acquisition by the Tate Gallery, a perspex cover, measuring 410 x 755 x 155, 16 1/4 x 29 3/4 x 6 1/8, has been made, with the artist's consent, to protect the wax elements. The bottles should be displayed close together on the shelf, which is positioned at eye level. They can be aligned so as to correspond in sequence and outline with the three mounted drawings that accompany them. The dimensions of the glass shelf are: 620 x 155 x 4, 24 3/8 x 4 1/2 x 1/8.

When T03445 was first exhibited, the artist gave it the title ‘Wax Sculpture No. VIII' but has agreed that it should now be untitled. A reproduction in the Lucerne catalogue is titled ‘Untitled' 1981-82, wax study for glass. Fisher retains the moulds for the wax elements.

Since making T03445, Fisher has made a bronze three-part work very similar in shape to the three wax elements in T03445, but based on three entirely different drawings and obviously not taken from the same moulds. This is ‘Untitled (3 Bottles)' 1985 (bronze, 275 x 75 x 88, 10 7/8 x 2 15/16 x 3 7/16; 200 x 70 x 70, 7 7/8 x 2 6/8 x 2 6/8; 65 x 120 x 60, 2 9/16 x 4 6/8 x 2 3/8, edition of three). It was exhibited at Nigel Greenwood Gallery in Joel Fisher: Sculpture, April-May 1986 and one from the edition is reproduced in Tricia Collins and Richard Milazzo (Sculpture by Joel Fisher, New York 1987, p.4 with the title, ‘Bottles (The Family)' 1985.

The American publication reproduced the following note by Collins and Milazzo beside the work:

These ‘bottles', this ‘family' of hollow repletions, circumscribe the contained language of a belly or leg. They utter songs of absurd potential. They execute the contract for a second nature grounded upon the prolonged world of intentions, perceptual habitude, and certain hermeneutic dispensations. They enact a half-breed continuity, located in a hybrid world. But any world that attempts to reference the universal, as if it were a logo or an egg, must also observe specificity circumscribe the parameters of abstraction. In effect, attention, here, may even underdetermine the incidental world of facts, where it does not predominate it. But in Fisher's work, this exchange is hardly necessary, never forced, and always noble, less a matter of positioning and more a matter of care. The bottles, the family, are void. ‘It has power because it can be filled, because space is available. Thus its strength comes from what it does not have.'

This entry has been approved by the artist.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.509-11

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