Joe Fig

Contemporaries

Plus Ultra

Joe Fig, "Inka Essenhigh and Steve Mumford" (2003), detail of Steve Mumford, mixed media.

Inka Essenhigh paints on plastic plates; her studio floor is littered with them. Steve Mumford’s studio is right next door to hers. Tara Donovan works out of her home. She watches TV to pass the time. Fred Tomaselli carefully catalogues his collage material, separating noses from butterflies from flowers in neatly arranged rows behind plastic sheets. Matthew Ritchie has a beautiful parquet floor in his studio. He reads quantum theory.

These are just a few of the intimate details that Joe Fig reveals in his current show at Plus Ultra entitled Contemporaries. On dollhouse scale, Fig has recreated the studios of five contemporary artists. The models are remarkably true to life and the photographic reproductions of them that adorn the gallery walls seem, at first glance, to have been taken from life. What gives them away are the slightly awkward figures of the artists— Essenhigh lounging on the couch, Mumford confrontationally regarding his painting— modeled in some unidentified substance.

Fig takes an obvious joy in his work. He is on intimate terms with these artists and clearly treasures his relationships with them. His enthusiasm is contagious. Peeking into the lives of working artists is exhilarating.

Loneliness also makes itself felt in Fig’s work, best exemplified in his portrait of Mumford. Like the other four artists, Mumford is alone in his tiny universe. What distinguishes him is his position in his paint-stained studio. He confronts his safari painting with his back squarely to the viewer so that you have to crane your neck out over the model to see his face. When you do, it is haggard.

The viewer’s position vis-à-vis Mumford seems analogous to Fig’s own position in relation to his subjects. Although Fig represents each artist’s world, he remains exterior, looking in on the creative process from the outside. Fig has been at this for a while. Before his Contemporaries series, he recreated the studios of a number of historical artists including a model of Jackson Pollock’s studio that one might easily mistake for a film still in its photographic reproduction.

Fig’s work is always derived from the work of others. This heightens the sense of futile loneliness often associated with artists’ lives and gives one the impression that Fig is alienated from art-making, accessing it only vicariously. Fig’s œuvre could stand as a perverse warning to many artists working today of the pitfalls of derivative art.

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