Whitworth University 2020 Faculty Biennial

Robert Fifield Part 3

Following is part three 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:  You have 144 individual panels displayed here.  Do you see them as individual objects or a larger group?  Is it one large project that’s made up of individual components?  Are they individual components that can be shown as a group?  Do you have a preference on how they are displayed?

R. Fifield:  When it’s something that I’m presenting in an exhibition, something that has my name attached to it, the bigger the group the better.  If I were in a large group show and they gave me a specific amount of space and I had to choose between a larger painting or six of these, I would choose the larger painting. I think a group of 12 or 18 or something like that would be OK.  I think they’re stronger when they are together, but I’ve sold several too people and I’ve seen pictures of them hung in a group of three, and they work, they look nice.  I even like them individually in someone’s home, particularly when hung in a small sort of space.  I think they sort of work better in that kind of claustrophobic environment.

I think of them as a large group. I think they work better together, but that’s not to say that the content is lost when seeing just an individual work.  I think it’s that same understanding that they are part of a larger grouping, just like when you see one painting by an artist, like a Richard Diebenkorn “Ocean Park”, and you’re like, oh that’s nice, and then you see more of them and you’re like I get it, yeah.  Being able to see them in a larger group like that shows how decisions are made, how things work and fit, and so provides more context than the individual.  When you’re seeing just one, like the last time I was at the Seattle Art Museum and there was one Josef Albers “Homage to the Square” painting.  You know how much I love Josef Albers and how nice it is for me when I can see any of his work, but I could imagine putting myself outside of being an artist, just being a visitor to the museum who doesn’t know much about that period of painting and looking at Josef Albers ‘Homage to the Square” and being confused and bored.  I would totally get it and it’s just that the context isn’t fully known.  When you look at a painting like that you get that sense that “I could do that”, and you’re not wrong, you could.

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

But that’s not the point. The point is there’s a whole bunch of other ones that you probably wouldn’t have done as well.  Yeah, I mean, I think that’s kind of true about my paintings too.  I look at these paintings and I don’t see any reason why some high school student taking their first art class couldn’t make something pretty identical, and for me that’s just not what it’s about with these.

L. Sinnema:  Yeah, I agree with you on the larger presentation.  Having more allows us to see the similarities as well as the variety.  You use the same patterns but different colors and tones, and the patterns actually shift and do different things with each of the iterations or translations.  Each painting uses color and pattern to emphasize the possibilities. 

R. Fifield:  Yeah, that is the best thing that I can hear from someone looking at these paintings.  Again, this is something that I address in the statement, but you’re absolutely right.  That is 100% what gets my face hot in the studio.  When I’m choosing one of the patterns where there is a shape or group of shapes that should clearly be the focus and painting it so that result is yielded, but then using the same pattern and painting it so I see the negative space and seeing how It completely changes the appearance of the quilt pattern, and they’re tough to recognize as even being the same pattern because of those colors.  For me they are very much little exercises in color interaction.

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

I work with a fairly tight group of colors, and I mix up new colors every once in a while, but I think in the whole 144 paintings there’s probably only 60 maybe 70 colors total.  This sounds like a lot until you realize how many shapes there are, so that has been kind of exciting just to see what I can do with this range of colors.  How they change when they’re next to each other.  How their identities are altered and then how the shape is altered.  Both of these kinds of things.

I was describing these to a friend who plays the saxophone, and I was describing how these paintings felt to me, and I said they really feel in terms of music like I am playing jazz standards or vocal standards or country standards, which is such a big part of the tradition of music.  Playing standards and how you sort of riff on and alter what’s going on in the standard, and I said that to me the kind of standards I feel like I’m playing are like a 1950’s vocal pop song whose vocal harmonies are really tight with minimally invasive instrumentation.  These little pleasant tunes performed well with not a lot of studio trickery, in terms of the music studio or in terms of my painting studio.

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

L. Sinnema:  It’s great work. I love seeing them all out of the studio and in a space that is a little bit bigger and gives them a little bit of room but keeps them confined as well.

R. Fifield:  Yeah, Donna came out to see the show and she looked at it for a little while and then turned to me and she’s like “this is really nice Rob”.  I thought, well, wow. Oh thanks. I haven’t heard that high praise in a while from you.  Thank you.  It’s so nice when the people who you know well, respond to it.

We hope you enjoyed Robert’s work and what he had to say about it.  Check back in a few days for our final artist spotlight for the 2020 Faculty Biennial.

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