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A trio of perspectives

Stewart Oksenhorn
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Spring – or at least the kind of spring weather we all have in mind – seems to have a hard time pushing through in Aspen at the moment.

But the current show at the Red Brick Center for the Arts gives off a definite air of spring. Walk in the east entrance, and one is welcomed by the soft watercolor flowers of Sistie Fischer. As Fischer’s flowers fade away, Marcia Weese’s bird images, created by a technique of wiping away paint until the bird appears, float into view. Beyond Weese’s work is a body of paintings – flowers, cows and images that reflect travels to Santa Fe and China – by Virginia Morrow. All three are Aspenites; all three have contributed work that provides warmth in this so-far chilly spring.

Virginia Morrow: More, bigger, better

Virginia Morrow can’t recall a time when she wasn’t at least drawing. But with three children to raise, Morrow didn’t have the time or attention to seriously pursue her art.

By the time her children were grown, Morrow’s artistic ambitions were full to bursting, and she began teaching herself to paint with oils. When a friend saw the way Morrow blended the colors, giving her work a washed feel, she suggested that Morrow try watercolors, which seemed a natural for her style.

When she discovered watercolors, Morrow’s devotion to art was elevated several notches. She loved the way the colors blended and moved; the easy cleanup was a bonus too. Morrow took classes at the Glassel School of Art in Houston, where she lived at the time. And in the Aspen area – where she has lived part time since 1985 and full time for the past few years – she studied at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center, primarily with Anstis Lundy.

In her studio, Morrow regularly puts in four or five hours a day, painting and preparing to paint. That discipline shows. Morrow has exhibited her work in Houston and is represented by the Evelyn Siegel Gallery in Fort Worth. And in the current show at the Red Brick, Morrow makes her Aspen debut.

The show demonstrates that Morrow has both arrived as an artist and is still developing. Along with the floral watercolors she has painted for years, the exhibit includes a series of cows, done in pastels, and Southwestern-style paintings that she made after a recent trip to Santa Fe. A 2001 trip to China inspired two very different series of works: Chinese street scenes that work as a travel documentary and orchids with an Asian touch.

“Whatever interests me at the time is what I paint,” said Morrow. “I’m influenced by trips we make: Santa Fe got me going on a group of Southwest paintings. A trip to China influenced the orchid paintings, which are narrow and thin and Oriental-looking.”

As for the pastels, Morrow had tried painting the cows – which brand Morrow as the Texan she is – in watercolors but found that the subject demanded something less delicate. “I hadn’t done much in pastels,” she said. “But the cows, they seemed like they needed to be done in pastel.”

The exhibit also shows that Morrow’s artistic vision has gotten increasingly sharper, broader and bigger. The most impressive and original piece is a 2002 watercolor, “Colorado Columbine.” The painting is done in a style that Morrow created in the mid-’90s; the same style defines the 1995 piece, “Sarouk with Orchids.” In these works, Morrow depicts flowers and a piece of crystal arranged on an ornate carpet. The various objects allow Morrow to paint in contrasting textures. The final touch in these paintings is the grand scale, which give the works a physical, exaggerated, almost abstract look.

“Whatever I’m looking at, I attempt to make the painting more beautiful than that,” she said. “And getting larger helps do that. If you enlarge them, you can get more abstract.”

Sistie Fischer: Late-life revelations

Sistie Fischer believes in the idea that art reveals the artist, through the work a viewer can earn much about the person who creates it.

Indeed, her work at the Red Brick seems a reflection of Fischer. Her watercolors are delicate, thoughtful, airy and peaceful, giving off the same mood as does a visit to her West End home. Images of flowers dominate both her canvases and her house. White abounds in Fischer’s world, in both her paintings and the studio she has behind her East Bleeker Street house.

“Everything about you comes out on the paper,” said Fischer. “If you want to look that deeply, you can see everything about me.”

Fischer may be mostly right. But one thing her refined flowers and landscapes won’t reveal is the 30 or so years that Fischer laid down her brush and didn’t paint a thing.

From childhood, Fischer constantly had a brush in hand and an easel in front of her. At Finch College, in her native New York, she studied art, specializing in oil painting.

But by the time she got to graduate school, at New York’s Parsons School of Design, Fischer’s focus had shifted. At Parsons, she studied interior and fashion design. In the professional world, she designed high-end skiwear for the now-defunct company Ulla before opening her own interior design company, S.F. Designs, in New York. Between those careers and raising two children, Fischer had no time for art.

“I didn’t paint. I didn’t think about painting,” she said.

But Fischer, a part-time Aspenite since the early 1970s and a full-time resident since 1989, was active in the art world and was a member of the board at Anderson Ranch. When she saw that Anstis Lundy was going to teach a course in watercolor painting at the Ranch, Fischer was interested but reluctant to enter the lottery that would determine who got into the class. First, she didn’t know if it was proper for a Ranch board member to apply for a space in one of the most popular classes; second, she hadn’t made a painting in decades. But when her name was drawn, Fischer’s enthusiasm overrode her concerns.

Like Virginia Morrow, her classmate in Lundy’s workshop, Fischer was won over by the medium of watercolor.

“When I found what watercolor can do – which is paint itself, when you’re painting wet on wet – I just had to keep painting,” said Fischer, who is showing her work publicly for the first time. “The colors are mixed on the paper, and once you put the color on, there’s no going back. You have to plan ahead, before you touch your paint to the paper, what it’s going to look like. That’s what gives watercolor its freshness and transparency. It’s the only medium I know that does that – that paints itself, that bursts, that comes alive.”

Much of Fischer’s work has a nonsolid quality. There’s an emphasis on white, which is simply the color of the unpainted paper. There are glass, reflections, shadows and lace. “My paintings do have an airiness. That’s a part of the way I see things,” she said.

Painting, said Fischer, “has changed my life. Everything you look at, you look at differently,” she says.

And with those changes came changes in the art. Look at the dates of her paintings, and one sees Fischer growing steadier and more assured with the passing years. The paintings are, she believes, becoming more perfect reflections of herself, her life.

“I think they’re very revealing of what you’re going through,” said Fischer. “Your passions, your outlooks and how you juxtapose things. Things in paintings have meanings; colors have meanings.”

Marcia Weese: Birds from thin air

The works in Marcia Weese’s “Birds on a Branch” series hardly resemble sculpture. Weese’s current pieces are monotypes on paper, and the birds themselves are bare wisps of image – featureless, shadowy – the precise opposite of the solidness of sculpture.

But Weese sees strong connections between her barely-there birds and the sculptured works she created in her past. Educated in sculpture at Vermont’s Bennington College and the graduate art school at New York’s Hunter College, Weese says the process of making the “Birds on a Branch” pieces resembles sculpting. The monotypes are made by building layers – light first, then dark – that are then peeled away to reveal the bird.

“The approach is a sculptural one,” said Weese, who splits her time between her native Chicago and Aspen, where her family has lived part time since 1945. “It’s like the act of carving. I’m building up a patina, the way a sculptor works with layers of chemicals on their bronzes.”

As with sculpture, the image is gradually revealed, a process Weese sees as magical. “The last several layers are dark, and when I lay these dark layers on, I wipe away,” said Weese, whose monotypes were printed with Aspen’s Craig O’Brien, her frequent collaborator. “It’s ironic – the image appears in the process of wiping away. There’s a real element of magic, like alchemy, in the process of wiping away in order for something to appear.

“A painter would take a brush and paint these images onto the canvas. I don’t paint these. I create the atmospheric condition with these layers and then make marks in order to reveal what’s underneath.”

Further connecting the “Birds on a Branch” to Weese’s sculptural past is the way they are presented. Instead of displaying them as strict two-dimensional works, Weese has given the prints solid wood or canvas backings. All the pieces are diptychs, with the two images separated by a sharp line; to Weese, they are like the pages of a book, telling a story. And in the Red Brick, the works are arranged along a straight line, resembling birds sitting on a high-tension wire. Taken as a whole, there is a physical, sculptured feel to the series.

Weese also says the birds are related to her past imagery, primarily cows and seedlings. “The icons are a vehicle for me to express my appreciation for the natural order,” she said. “The cows were about the landscape. For the seedlings, it was the fragility and miraculous nature of growing things. With the birds, I’m working with the elusive nature of the bird atmosphere, their habitat.”

Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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