Tony Feher / Tom Fairs at Kerry Schuss
March 1 to April 26, 2015
34 Orchard Street, between Hester and Canal streets
New York City, 212.219.9918
As he demonstrates so often, Kerry Schuss knows how to install exhibitions in ways that combine unobtrusively but strikingly with the qualities of his Orchard Street space.
In what is a familiar inventive strategy for Tony Feher, ordinary, everyday materials are radically repurposed. Short strips of overlapping blue decorator’s tape are laid on Perspex panels that fit exactly the size of this Lower East Side gallery’s windows. They are like semi-transparent mosaics that generate a stained-glass effect, utilizing the incoming light when seen within and appearing opaque and uniform from the street. An extraordinary constellation of concentric circles with dark blue centers—produced where the tape is most layered— casts a blue light onto adjacent gallery walls. The radiating circles eventually break and become irregular rectangular formations that look like an analogue pixilation if such a thing were possible. The gallery becomes a kind of secular chapel, with framed drawings on paper by the British artist Tom Fairs (1925-2007) placed at intervals around the walls.
In Fairs’ drawing, multiple spatial rhythms relate to the four sides of the sheet, each time establishing a particular depth and pace. Areas unmodulated by the variegated lines and dashes of pencil—areas of unmarked paper—are just as important, and not only as shape but also as moments of reflected light. Light is a subject of the drawings in as much as it is light itself that is modified, closed down, and opened up variously—given the relative density and contrasts of the drawn marks—and not just depicted. Take Untitled (c.1995) for example, where the illumination from the sheet is at its greatest at the upper section as a consequence of less interweaving pencil lines used elsewhere on the page to denote foliage in a wonderfully animate way and with unpredictable variety. What is captured is what is only sensed—verisimilitude is not sought by Fairs, but rather an underlying rhythmic structure. The range of mark making, at turns rapid and languid, made on location, is matched by the broad range of tone, causing a building impression of equivalence to color the longer one spends viewing each individual drawing. They are so complete that they can easily stand alone as well as in a group; the groupings here allow for compositional ingenuity, one drawing to the next, to be appreciated.
When comparing these drawings to those of Pierre Bonnard, it is Bonnard who seems conventional in his depictions and less willing to engage with the more abstract qualities available to mark making. Ultimately and surprisingly it is Paul Cézanne’s drawings and watercolors that come to mind over Bonnard’s, and not because of similarities of touch or construction, but because the two artists appear to be aligned conceptually. Irrespective of shape and circumscribing line, something else happens that informs our perceptions which is in the opposite direction to looking at a view through a camera where the different light levels can’t be matched by the optic but are no problem for the human eye. Further, in the drawings our automatic physiological response to space and light saturation, usually calibrated into fixed distances, are collapsed—integrated on a wholly different basis— and rearranged. As Cézanne said in a much-quoted conversation with Joachim Gasquet (a typed transcript of which Fairs kept in his studio):
Cézanne: I have my motif…(he clasps his hands together.) A motif, you see, it is this…
Cézanne: Oh yes. (He repeats his gesture his hands, spreading his fingers apart, and brings them slowly, very slowly again, then joins them, clenches them, making them interlace). There you have it—that’s what one must attain. If I pass too high or too low all is ruined. There mustn’t be a single link too loose, not a crevice through which may escape the emotion, the light, the truth.
Fairs was a lifelong resident of London, working frequently in locations around Hampstead Heath, using notebook and pencil. And, though the scale and means of the chosen medium are modest, the ambition and achievement in this body of work is anything but—think of Seurat’s series of Conté drawings. Like all the best examples of art, influences abound — everything stems from a tradition one way or another—but this is no less singular and outstanding work for that.
It can’t be over-emphasized how well this unlikely pairing of artists comes together in their revealed preoccupation with light itself. And, of added interest, there is the fact that Fairs actually studied stained glass window design at the Royal College of Art, subsequently working on several public commissions, including the nave windows of the new Coventry Cathedral after World War II.print