As summer turns to autumn and London begins to get colder, Matthew Fisher’s first London exhibition at Taymour Grahne is aptly titled After the Ice. The new body of work has a surreal quality to it, comprised mostly of barren land and seascapes, questioning the relationship between reality and illusion.
Fisher’s paintings are predominantly blue and orange. The reflection of a white moon rests on still waters in Around Sunset, while the sun’s heat radiates off cool sands in Orange and Yellow. Sometimes the inclusion of a fish, a crab, a lobster or a planet is seen, giving a sense that their might be an astrological or cosmic dimension to the work. It is as the paintings are communicating something to the viewer from a parallel, dreamlike world. “The connection with astrology is rooted in my boyhood fascination of the sky above. The thought that there are other suns, other worlds out there. I felt the same way about what was beyond the ocean’s horizon line”, explains Fisher, “With The Mystic Hand in particular, I had come across the image of the crab and fish in the background of an illustration from an old book I found on the street. I deeply enjoyed their dance and wanted to make a painting of that image. I surround the central image with three moments when I saw the universe for the first time larger than the world I was standing on: Haley’s Commit, the rings of Saturn, and the Southern Cross constellation. When I saw these moments for the first time, I got a glimpse of how small we are.”
The sea-like imagery in The Mystic Hand runs throughout Fisher’s oeuvre, with pretty much every image in the exhibition including a glimpse of an empty body of water, or at least an object connected to the sea like a shell or an animal. “Wanting to find imagery that is both universal and personal, the open sea has that exact power”, explains Fisher, “It also implies mystery of the other side and the life that lives below: outer worldly while being part of this world, a landscape that is already abstracted.” Perhaps the most abstract landscape within this particular body of work is The Darkness, where dark blue waves layer upon one another, folding on-top of each other like swathes of fabric. Meanwhile, the face of a white crescent moon glows within an orb of pale-blue, against a deep blue sky.
Fisher combines a modernist two-dimensional painterly approach with an early 80s and 90s use of vivid colours and pastel hues. This is layered with brushstrokes of acrylic paint, blurring the boundaries between figuration and abstraction, real and constructed. The images appear spookily familiar, but foreign at the same time. In Slow Swirl at the Edge of the Sea a red lobster appears against a black background, a shell to its left and a moon to its right. Perhaps we may have seen it in a film, but upon second inspection, perhaps not. Maybe – in reference to the exhibition’s title – they have come back from the past, a past where they have been preserved in ice, but now they have thawed out, appearing as fresh aliens trapped by time. “I have been reading a wonderful Steven Mithen book from which the title of the show was taken and it struck a chord with me”, explains Fisher, “The reality of our up-to-the-second instant notification world now, is that we know how many tons of ice melted on Greenland in one day. It all seems so abstract in a way, happening elsewhere, the effects will be in the future. As Kurt Wagner sings, ‘it’s the new not normal.’ Which unfortunately, now, is normal.” So, perhaps, the simplicity of Fisher’s work – void of any signs of human life or technology at all – is what gives it that otherworldly feel, as we have now become so accustomed to a highly filtered, electronic and populated world.
Fisher’s works are imbued with a sense of stillness. His images of desolated open seascapes, deprived of any apparent movement, exist beyond a temporal dimension. After the Ice communicates with the past, which in turn asks us about the future. While the work doesn’t obviously make a statement about the global climate crisis, its title certainly does. With permafrost thawing and polar caps disappearing, we have returned to a time After the Ice.
Matthew Fisher: After the Ice is on display at Taymour Grahne, 1 Denbigh Road, London W11 2SJ until 22 September 2019