Photographer Kurt Fishback adds more local artists to his ongoing series of workspace portraits
Chris Daubert makes art from glowing, electric light in a studio on a peaceful 60-acre stretch of Dixon farmland.But this article isn’t supposed to be about Chris Daubert.
Annie Murphy-Robinson heals by confronting darkness, sketching life-sized portraits in a garage.
But this isn’t supposed to be about Annie Murphy-Robinson.
Nor is it supposed to be about Maija Peeples-Bright, who paints “fantasmagoric creatures and beasties … in a setting that is both benign and biting,” on huge canvases in wildly bright colors. Nor about David Lane, whose metalwork is medal-worthy, created in a space resembling a whimsical, antique hardware store.
Or maybe it is.
These artists are among the 22 locals whose portraits make up Artists/Spaces, a new exhibit by the article’s intended subject, photographer Kurt Fishback. It’s an extension of his well-known Artist in Residence series, in which Fishback has photographed more than 250 artists in their creative work spaces. Be it Gregory Kondos, Ansel Adams, Richard Diebenkorn or others lesser-known, his is art about other people.
“My intent, starting with the first portrait, has centered on my desire to share artists with the public in a way that both defines them and their environments and in the process makes them more accessible and real,” Fishback said. “All too often, an artist is only known for their work.”
After Daubert, who is also the Gregory Kondos Gallery curator, had his portrait taken by Fishback, he asked the photographer for a new series of portraits to exhibit. Why? Because, hey, “It’s Kurt Fishback,” Daubert said. “He’d really been working with a lot of established artists before. My job is digging out all these amazing folks.”
And so the introductions began.
Daubert encouraged Fishback to photograph Dave Lane, who makes two- and three-dimensional art ("but I also do like 9-D") out of leftovers collected from antique dealers, farmers and scrap-metal dealers between Bakersfield, Calif., and Seattle. One of Lane’s whimsical, sculptural contraptions won the Juror’s Award for three-dimensional art and Best in Show at the 2007 California State Fair Fine Art Competition.
He works in a studio packed floor-to-ceiling with the intriguing scraps. In his portrait, he’s cutting metal, sending sparks to the floor like upside-down strobe lights. “The thing about having sparks flying around is that it’s always dramatic,” Lane said with a chuckle.
When asked about Fishback’s artistic process, Lane was hush-hush. “I’m not sure what his process was as far as making the big picture,” he said. “As far as processes, the less people know about it, the better, because it makes it seem more mysterious, and when you take the mystery out of things, people go, ‘Eh, anybody could do that.’ Except not everybody would do that.”
Annie Murphy-Robinson, another artist introduced to Fishback by Daubert, spoke openly about her nude portrait.
“It wasn’t just him shooting and being a photographer and his art. It was like both of ours,” she said of the finished product, in which she stands in front of her illustrated likeness. “I was totally relaxed and talking with his wife.”
Murphy-Robinson’s larger-than-life-sized nude self-portrait drawings lined the Solomon Dubnick Gallery last month.
Murphy-Robinson is empowered by her self-portraits, part of what she calls the “Sasquatch Series.” “I’m owning my past and rising above,” she said. “I’m not an exhibitionist. I’m kind of conservative. … It’s not naked, it’s nude, and there’s a long tradition [of nudity in art], but it’s always been for the man to look at. I’m always meeting the gaze of the viewer, and it’s almost like this confrontation. It’s not easy. When the gaze is downcast, the viewer feels free to look.”
In her Fishback photograph, Murphy-Robinson meets the viewer’s eye.
In addition to Daubert’s suggested subjects, Fishback pooled from his own artistic community, which stretches back to his childhood in Carmel. The son of photographer Glen Fishback, he spent a lot of time with famous artists. Ansel Adams was among his father’s friends. Edward Weston was young Fishback’s godfather. “It’s not so much that he’s a famous photographer, but that he loved me,” Fishback said. He studied ceramic sculpture in college, but it was only a matter of time before Fishback embraced the family medium: photography.
Printed anecdotes adjacent to every photograph in Fishback’s Artist in Residence book suggest that many of the shoots weren’t work so much as friends and associates hanging out, taking pictures. He is an artist’s artist.
Maija Peeples-Bright, of the “fantasmagoric creatures and beasties,” is one of several artists whose portraits appear both in the book and in the current exhibit.
She remembers communal dinners in the ‘60s with Fishback and other pals in her San Francisco home—which somebody told Peeples-Bright should be painted beige. “I didn’t really like that, so I painted it rainbow,” she said. Changing decades haven’t dulled her palette. In this exhibit, Fishback shoots Peeples-Bright against the backdrop of one of her gigantic, color-drenched murals; she’s smiling in bright-red lipstick and clutching the sculpture of a “beastie” by any other name.
“He doesn’t really take a ton of photos,” she said. “Kurt figures out one or two settings and sets up his equipment and does it.”
Her portraits sometimes take longer because, she said, “He’s a friend. We sit and talk.”
To this day, Fishback’s daily routine involves sitting and talking with his creative close friend and wife, Cassandra Reeves, who’s also among the artists photographed for this show. “It was great to work with my husband in a different way,” she said of the shoot. “It was different being in front of the camera. … I feel privileged to be in the same [show] as some of these artists.”
“It was hard for me to even say that I’m an artist until recently,” echoed Murphy-Robinson. “I can kind of own that title now. He takes photos of great artists in the area and … I was like ‘Wow, I’m part of that crew.'”
Lane thinks the show’s local-artist spotlight is important to Sacramento’s creative reputation: “I hope it will raise awareness of art in the area. You know why—and this is a credit to Kurt—art in the Sacramento Valley is a big secret,” he said.
And for Fishback, if it builds community, all the better.
“In talking to Daubert about the show, I knew that [making works from] clay would fulfill me personally in a selfish way,” Fishback said. “It would put me in the studio space. But the artist portraits put me in connection with other people.”
And that’s really what this article is all about.