Andreas Fischer’s coordinated and concurrent shows at the College of Dupage’s Gahlberg Gallery and at the Hyde Park Art Center (which this article focuses on) present two distinct but related bodies of work. At the Gahlberg Gallery is “Original Locations,” paintings of non-descript and shrewdly cropped scenes of the mountainous American West. At the Hyde Park Art Center (HPAC) is Mr. Fischer’s series of small paintings all titled Sunday Best. Most are about 8” x 10” and depict people from 19th century America. Using found tintype photographs as source material, Fischer’s portraits recognizably depict another time period, as indicated by clothing, hairstyles and expressionless stares. Despite the addition of color into the paintings, Mr. Fischer maintains the high value contrast that typifies that era’s photography.
Mr. Fischer’s color goes a long way in indicating his attitude toward these subjects. The colors are oddly dissonant at most times and not inextricably attached to their subjects. Ranging from whimsical to distorted, ruddy to pallid, the faces rarely reach any level of naturalism in their depiction. Nor do they assume the kind of particularity necessary to infer any kind of character upon them, save only the most stereotypical or obvious of designations. Such as occurs with a man on horseback gnawing on a cigar who looks a lot like General Ulysses S. Grant, provocatively placed next to a Native American man sitting near his rifle. Others look to be preachers or miners, homesteaders or showgirls. But these categories go little further than calling forth an occupation or maybe a name. What’s left after all of this effort is an elaborate shell wherein Mr. Fischer can play with the experience of paint. But the intimacy and attention that the paintings require is severely challenged by their unfortunate placement in the hallway of the HPAC.
Nevertheless Mr. Fischer produces some extremely beguiling paintings, as in a trio of darker works near the middle of the show. Three men’s pink faces emerge from a darkened brown ground, brightly lit but floating in this nebulous netherworld of space. Without an attached narrative to animate their being they seemed compellingly lost. Other portraits are more lighthearted but just as estranged. Set against a cloudy blue sky, a blonde haired man sports a dapper bowtie and a wrinkled expression around his crooked nose. He seems simultaneously confused and bemused by his circumstance. But far and away the most satisfying painting is the first one in the exhibition. In it a blonde haired woman peers sideways out of the frame set against that same black ground. Sly and anonymous, her thickly painted hair slides down her pale skin to the folds of a ruffled collar. Here more than elsewhere the color, attention and gestures in the paint are particular, complex and perfectly enjoyable.