ADD IT UP Bosch’s Pieno.
Faculty exhibitions tend to be hodgepodges, no matter how prestigious the school (this means you, "RISD Biennial Faculty Exhibition"), presenting too many artists, in too many styles, each represented by too few works. But "Sabbatical Exhibition," featuring professors Doug Bosch and Stephen Fisher at Rhode Island College's Bannister Gallery (through March 18), is a delightful exception — perhaps because with just two artists, it gives both of them enough room to show off what they can do, and they do it quite well.
Stephen Fisher's drawings and intaglio prints of forests can be so exquisitely realistic that they're easily mistaken for high contrast photographs. Acadia (after rain) (2009), for example, is a charcoal and pencil drawing of dark evergreens and bracken in the foreground that frame our view of soaring, spindly evergreens in the misty distance. The effect is achieved relatively simply — contrasting the dark tones of the foreground with the lighter tones of the background to create a sense of depth — but Fisher does it so delicately that it seems as if you can feel the fog in the air.
In recent years, Fisher has leaned more toward still lifes, like his work seen in the 2008 Rhode Island State Council on the Arts Fellowship exhibition. Swimming with the Infinite (2008) is a charcoal and pencil drawing of a vintage fan, wire planter, bodhisattva bust, ball, and sculpture of a hand all sitting on a glinting tile table top in front of a window shaded by Venetian blinds. It's an audaciously challenging set-up, favoring transparent objects that show off Fisher's ability to make sense of what could be a visual tangle. The result is a tour de force of light and shadow, patterns and reflections. Impressive as this is, I find myself rebelling against Fisher's self-consciously controlled works. They're so carefully orchestrated that they feel uptight and constricted.
THIS IS NOT A PHOTOGRAPH Fisher’s Autumn Tangle.
So I'm happy to see Fisher now alternating between landscape and still lifes — the former are just as much tours de force as the latter, though a charcoal and pencil drawing like Autumn Tangle (2009) doesn't highlight Fisher's mastery in the same way. Instead we get caught up in all the branches and fallen limbs among the trees on a hill sloping down to what looks like a river. We're more swept into the scene, into the openness and surprises of nature.
Bosch's subject also is nature, but instead of reproducing its appearance, he considers its underlying forces. In particular, he's interested in catenaries — the curve that cords assume when suspended between two anchors and tugged down by gravity. It's about distilling the elegant, simple beauty found at the intersection of geometry and physics.
This recalls his study of the operations of nature in his art of the past decade or so, in which he fashioned Minimalist sculptures by playing around with the behavior of pitch pine pollen. He dipped whole strings into pollen mixtures until the pollen dried into hard crusts that resembled tree branches. Or he dipped just the end of strings into a mixture of pollen and plant cellulose until they formed bulbs at the end of each strand. He gathered these into bundles suspended like chandeliers that resembled budding plants or insect pods.