Special “Eye” to Watch
June Mattingly // contributing art writer

“Vernon Fisher: 1989-1999”
on view at Dunn and Brown Contemporary’s gallery through June 30

Dunn and Brown Contemporary’s “Vernon Fisher: 1989-1999” contains six monumental paintings
completed within those 10 years of his 30-year career. In 2010 the University of Texas Press
published a book by Frances Colpitt, chair of art history at TCU in Fort Worth on this esteemed
Texas artist’s work.

Vernon’s retrospective “K-Mart Conceptualism” at the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth also in
2010 conceivably was the beginning of his achieving similar international fame of the Texan
Robert Rauschenberg (1925- 2008).  Both caught critics’ and curators’ full attention while still
very much alive and continually producing art. Both artists combine commonplace images
and fragmentary narrative texts in multiple mediums – painting, sculpture and installation –
in unbelievably similar but different, distinct ways. Vernon comments, “I have written my share
of pieces featuring Dairy Queens, grocery stores, Laundromats, third-rate hotels, etc.” This
intentional combination of mainstream references gave the Modern’s show its title;
consequently K-Mart was not considered a “pejorative descriptor.”
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“Private Africa,” 1995, oil on blackboard slating on wood, 92 7/8 x 93 9/16 inches, collection
of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, acquired 1995.
Girlfriend Jan, 1999, oil and acrylic on canvas, 81 x 90 inches
As was typical of an exhibit on this level, the signature artworks are either in the collection of
the museum sponsoring the exhibit or loaned from private collections. Michael Auping, chief
curator at the Modern, the second largest contemporary art museum in the US, who
organized the exhibit since taking his job added seven Fishers to the permanent collection.

For his blackboard paintings Vernon creates a perfect faux blackboard that he affixes
realistically painted vignettes in which images appear surrounded by original composed
text on hypothetical maps or theme associated backgrounds. The chalk-like scribbled
metaphorical letters and/or numbers sometimes appear in the earlier works as erased,
as in “Girlfriend Jan” marked through and/or replaced with new thoughts, not unlike
memories emerging from the past. Besides the conceptual thread throughout his oeuvre
Vernon’s fine reputation is based on his skill as a phenomenal painter - he does not
rely on photographs, stencils or cut-outs  – rather he paints everything himself from a
loaded parachute descending towards Victoria Falls in “Private Africa” or a Mickey
Mouse  supervised story-telling cartoon in “Jocko at Dover.”
The second floor galleries at the Modern displayed 37 of this prolific artist’s pieces. In the
painting titled “Bikini,” a kitschy octopus at a miniature golf course is shadowed by an
immense but similarly shaped atomic explosion in an ominous sky making an unusual
connection between images and text. Canvas-cut birds were stapled to a huge wall
in “84 Sparrows” grown to the size of pigeons  whereas “Boat, Island, Ape,” a room-sized
installation paying homage to King Kong grew in proportions with added sound effects -
the chirping of a knock-out punch, an outdated telephone ring and the repetitive “It’s
a Small World” filling the surrounding space.

Born in 1943 in Fort Worth, he still lives there with his artist wife/artist Julie Bozzi, also
represented by Dunn and Brown. There are no Graf Zeppelins or roaring oceans in
Fort Worth – that says a lot. His MFA is from the University of Illinois.
Jocko at Dover, 2009, oil and acrylic on canvas, 58 x 66 inches
Vernon’s impressive biography shows his inclusion in more than 80 shows worldwide and his
work in over 40 museum collections.  Of particular note: he has received a Tiffany
Foundation grant, a Guggenheim Scholarship and three National Endowment for
the Arts awards. In 1981 he exhibited at the Guggenheim Museum and in 2000 he
was chosen for the competitive Whitney Biennial. He was the first Texas artist to have
a solo exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art and has showed at the Hirshhorn Museum
in D.C. For 30 years he has held the position of professor of art at North Texas State
University in Denton.

Vernon comments: “I think consciousness is a very small part of our interaction with
the world. My work is an allegory of our interaction with the stuff we call the world,
it is a metaphor for our finding our way. I see myself more as an observer than
anything else. I just see all this stuff and point to it.”

Dunn and Brown Contemporary
5020 Tracy St Dallas, Texas 75205