Whitworth University 2020 Faculty Biennial

Robert Fifield Part 2

Following is part two of my interview with Robert Fifield.

Blocks (titles vary), Robert Fifield, 2020-21, acrylic on MDF, 144 6×6 inch paintings, $50 each, contact Robert Fifield for availability

L. Sinnema:  The last thing you were talking about touches a little bit on one of the questions I had about specific patterns, so can you give us some titles or some names of patterns.  Are there any patterns that you’re using here that have deeper meaning, or more specific meaning?

R. Fifield:  There are some more specific ones used including blocks from the freedom quilts.  I think there are eight blocks in the freedom quilts, which were traditional quilt patterns that then had their meaning adapted to signify particular things on the Underground Railroad.  I believe the monkey wrench pattern, which was a traditional quilt pattern, was then used to signify on the plantation when it was time to get ready.

The flying geese pattern, which is triangles that point in four directions, in freedom quilts three of the directions would be the same color and one would be a darker color.  This would make a really visually attractive quilt, but depending on how that quilt was hung outside of someone’s home, people who are fleeing slavery would know to head North, South, East or West.  So several paintings that I have in the exhibition are that traditional flying geese pattern painted to reference freedom quilts.

Blocks (titles vary), Robert Fifield, 2020-21, acrylic on MDF

The painting that is the most central in the exhibition is the only painting that’s not for sale, and it was one of the first paintings that I did in this series.  One of the first, 15 or 20 I suppose, but it had been on my mind for a long time.  The quilt pattern is the Crown of Thorns, referencing Christ and his crucifixion.  It’s painted kind of off white like the color of parchment paper, bright red and black, and painted in a particular way so that it looks like the 3-dimensional model of the coronavirus.  So the composition references both the Crown of Thorns and coronavirus and this time that we’re going through, and how these paintings, every one in the exhibition, was started after we had to leave work last year when we shut down.

Blocks (titles vary), Robert Fifield, 2020-21, acrylic on MDF, 144 6×6 inch paintings, $50 each, contact Robert Fifield for availability

It was a really important marker for me and really solidified that these were to be a record of the passing time of uncertainty, of isolation, and of so much difficulty as well as being confronted by our own mortality.  During the time we’re living in this pandemic and how strange it was that collectively it wasn’t just that I had an experience where my mortality was called into question, but everyone did, my friends, my neighbors, my family, we were all sort of dealing with something pretty heavy and un-processable simultaneously.  I think this made it so hard for all of us because you just wonder, I’m not feeling well about this, I’m not doing well with this, who do I turn to? And the answer is other people who aren’t feeling good about this.  It made it so hard because you want to talk about these kinds of feelings you’re having but also not overburden friends and family who are feeling the exact same things.  And for me, making these paintings was a way to sort of mark time and to be productive and to attempt to make something that, like quilts, are here for warmth and comfort and stability.

L. Sinnema:  You have 144 paintings here.  Are you continuing to make more?  Will you be painting these for the foreseeable future?

R. Fifield:  Yes, in in some form or another.  I have 75 more panels in my studio right now that I’m working on, so there you go.  I think I’m kinda onto some other ideas, some other thoughts that I’ve been testing out here and there at school.  It’s kind of going slow, but that’s usually how I operate with testing those things.  I take my time so that I can do it right before I go into production mode. 

I think what will happen is that I’ll start working on another kind of project and then this will become like 75% of my work, and then it will slowly get push aside over the next few years.  I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t eventually have 400 of them.

Thanks again for joining us and check back again tomorrow for the third and final installment of Robert’s interview.

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