On June 22, Bridge Art Space opened “Double Vision”, a show featuring paintings by Debbie Vinograd and photographs by Robert Fischer. “Double Vision” continues through the end of July, and can be viewed at the Gallery at Bridge Art Space (23 Maine Avenue, Richmond, CA 94804) seven days a week from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m.
Prior to taking up photography ten years ago, Mr. Fischer had a well-established career as a painter, with one of his works in the collection of the Smithsonian. A prominent figure in the Chicago art scene for many years, he was described by People Magazine as “the windy city Warhol” because of his celebrity portraits and the collection of oddball performers and eccentrics he presented at his famous “Bizzarte” events. These events often attracted an audience of thousands and would feature such acts as the 200 pound blonde hula dancer and the tap dancing zebra ladies. Since taking up photography over the past decade, he has amassed an astonishing body of work. Arts journalist DeWitt Cheng has written that “Robert Fischer’s humanistic but unsentimental photographs force us to be both more truthful and more tolerant.” James Mann, former curator of the Las Vegas Museum of Art, calls Fischer’s work “a…frank, free, full, forthright presentation of human ripeness.” Mr. Fischer is the subject of two award winning documentary films, “Original Schtick” and “Schtick Happens”.
Debbie Vinograd is an academically trained oil painter whose still lifes, nudes, portraits and imaginary dream creatures reflect her extensive knowledge of art history and the influence of distinguished teachers. She has been showing in the Bay area since the 1970s at such venues as the John Berggruen Gallery in San Francisco, Autobody Fine Art in Alameda, and the Sun Gallery in Hayward. She says, “If looking at the world takes your breath way, you can only get it back by passing it on. Each time I raise a brush to canvas, I have to believe the world hasn’t been created yet. It’s up to me.
For the exhibit, “Double Vision”, Robert Fischer photographed live models. Debbie Vinograd painted portraits from the photographs. Juxtaposed, the two creations challenge our understanding of portraiture. The “double vision” at play here compels us to question the source of each image. Fischer interacts with the live model, but Vinograd does not. Is she making a painting of a person or a painting of a photograph?
That question might lead us to reflect on the complex history of paintings and photographs. For a century now, most audiences have been exposed to great paintings through photographic prints. Relatively few of us have actually seen Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”, for example, or Picasso’s “Guernica”. A contemporary teenager studying in an art history class could easily choose Van Gogh as her favorite painter without ever actually seeing a Van Gogh painting. Yet the same teenager would almost certainly be unable to name the photographer whose image she has actually examined.
Yet, here, in Double Vision, the traditional order has been reversed: the photographer has not reproduced the painting; the painter has reproduced the photograph.
So which is the “real” art? And how do we understand the success or failure of the work? Does the painting “succeed” to the extent that it shows us the photograph? Is the photograph merely a disposable tool of the painter, to be discarded once the painting is finished, or viewed merely as an interesting historical artifact as we examine the painting? Or is it the painting that might be understood as disposable, intended merely as a reproduction of the photograph? Why care about the reproduction when the original is at hand? And where is the model in all this discussion? Should we have called our show “Triple Vision”? Just how many visions of a “single” subject can there be?
Is one work of art more “real” than the other? If so, which and why? And, in this context, what is the “subject” of our show? Is it a show about a group of interesting people who modeled for Fischer, or is it a show about the relationship of photography and painting? Or is it just a (hopefully) clever way of displaying the work of two interesting artists?
Our intention has been to raise these questions in the viewer’s mind, although we offer no answers. Hopefully, those who see this show will come away having enjoyed the work of two outstanding visual artists, and been provoked to think about painting and photography in new and interesting ways. If we’ve done our job right, you’ll never look at the connection between paintings and photographs in quite the same way, having been exposed to a Double Vision.
The exhibit also features additional photographic work by Mr. Fischer, featuring photographs for his current project, “Listen Very Closely” which focusses on portraits of Bay area writers. There are also some additional still lifes by Ms. Vinograd.
For the opening night event, the party included a literary reading featuring Debbie Vinograd’s sister, Julia Vinograd, often referred to as “the Poet Laureate of Berkeley”, and Charles Kruger, MK Chavez, Rusty Rebar, Jan Steckel, Richard Loranger, Cassandra Dallett, and Nic Burrose. There was terrific music, too, by Consolidated Electric.
The reading was captured on video; you can see each reader below:
Rusty Rebar + Richard Morrison on sitar