by Manu SharmaJul 21, 2023
“The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled," wrote painter and novelist John Berger in his famous essay, Ways of Seeing. Rarely has this been truer than with the work of New York sculptor Lars Fisk. As art director for the jam band Phish, he has created sprawling, dynamic installations, like the Garden of Infinite Pleasantries, where portable toilets are turned into Japanese pagodas. It’s the sphere, however, that is his signature motif – in Fisk’s hands, everyday objects turn into globoids that endear and baffle in equal measure.
"For me, the sphere is just a basic shape, a uniform that different subjects can be coerced into but at the same time, a form that is unlikely," says Fisk, in an email interview with STIR, while his exhibition, Wattle & Daub was on view at the Marlborough Gallery in London. It's what he calls "an irrational shape," one that is "unstable and difficult to create." The idea struck him in 1996, one year after he joined Phish, as he drove down a mountainous highway, his mind heavy with "all the nonsense discourse in painting that had to with the flatness of the picture plane," when, in a road hypnosis, he "began to imagine the landscape as only pavement, that after cresting the next hill, the highway might just continue to curl up into itself and become detached as its own particle." A rock 'n' roll moment was born.
Today, Fisk is one of the stars of the New York art scene, at home with the city’s rich and famous. Actually ‘home’, however, is a set of shipping containers, which he found at the edge of a Costco parking lot. As most of us would do, he moved in. It’s an austerity, he says, that is a consequence of supporting oneself as an artist, of “suppressing one’s standard of living.” A few years later, he packed and moved, containers and all, to Brooklyn, where he now resides.
"I look for things that are ordinary and maybe so ubiquitous that we don't even notice them as being meaningful representatives of a culture," says Fisk. The objective is “to make the thing exactly as it exists in the world, in the same ways with the same materials but in the new form.” Among his works are a yellow school bus, Trash Can Ball, Street Ball (made of cobble), complete with a manhole cover, Lot Ball, one of his largest, Subway Ball, Houseboatball, a Mister Softee ice cream truck and one of the architectural staples of the American suburb, the Mock Tudor. Tudor Ball has stucco exteriors, exposed wooden beams and even a window box filled with flowers.
It is difficult work, requiring scientific precision with quantum flair. Fisk largely functions out of his studio, has his own kiln for making curved tiles and bricks and an English Wheel (his favourite), an “antiquated tool for manipulating steel into compound curves. I have collected a lot of different tools to make materials bend." He’s also accustomed to working with his hands, growing up in rural Vermont with builder/ crafter parents who often did projects together. "Mostly toys," he says, "that I imagined and had mom and dad more or less make for me. I would figure out the patterns for a stuffed character or I would draw out the contours of a helicopter." They didn't leave home often and were used to making the things they needed. It wasn't "art" at the time and he didn't realise until he saw the collection at Dartmouth College that what he did could be taken more seriously.
Three Treeballs - an ash from Vermont, a cedar from his mother's house in Maine and a shagbark hickory from upstate New York, have been re-formed into his signature globoids and are on view at Wattle & Daub. Another work, Droplet, his 2020 offering, represents a new leap - single, perfectly spherical drop of water stands suspended in an atmospheric chamber, “squeezed out of an eyedropper and held indefinitely in tiny, spherical stasis.”
"The transformation of any common object into something so unlike itself can show us what it is about that thing that makes it what it is and what it is not,” Fisk remarks. And it doesn’t end there for the viewer, who is left wondering where those lines have gone in the first place.
Lars Fisk: Wattle & Daub was on view from February 20 to March 14, 2020, at Marlborough, London.