John Fisher was born in Coventry in 1938 and educated at Camberwell School of Art, where his tutor for drawing was Euan Uglow. Since graduating he has practised in several media, including sculpture and printmaking, but in recent years has worked mainly in oil on paper and sometimes canvas. Represented by Francis Kyle Gallery since 1986, Fisher has travelled widely in Europe and Asia in pursuit of subjects which satisfy his interest in architecture and landscape, recorded in eleven one-man exhibitions: Villages and Valleys of the Ardèche (1988), Provence and Pamphylia (1989), Egypt and Italy (1991), Jordan and Italy (1993), Central Asia (1996), In Mongolia (1998), Writers' rooms (2002), Writers' rooms 2 (2006), Writers' rooms 3 (2008), Writers' Rooms 4 (2010) and Writers' Rooms 5 (2014).
John Fisher has been a regular contributor to many of the Gallery's theme exhibitions and special projects, including The Italian Journey: Ten Artists go South in the Footsteps of J W Goethe (1987), Paradise... is here: Painters in Moghul and Rajput India (1989), Mozart's Travels, shown at the Lincoln Centre, New York (1991), The Piero Trail (1994), The Saxon Shore (Francis Kyle Gallery, 1997 and the King's Lynn Art Centre, 1998), Lair of The Leopard: Twenty artists go in search of Lampedusa's Sicily (2005), Everyone Sang: A view of Siegfried Sassoon and his world by twenty-five painters today (2006), РОДИНА (2008), That gong-tormented Sea: contemporary painters pursue the idea and the reality of Byzantium (2009) and Jumping for Joyce: Contemporary painters revel in the world of James Joyce (2013). In 2000 John Fisher was a major participant in The Art of Memory: Contemporary Painters in search of Marcel Proust, shown also at the National Theatre on the Sound Bank in 2001, the theme exhibition which marked the beginning of his encounters with writers’ rooms.
Often it is minor but eloquent detail which for Fisher unlocks the character of writers’ homes. Daphne du Maurier’s cool but determined pursuit of her craft in her West Country home is caught in the surface contents of her writing desk furnished with her Olivetti typewriter, du Maurier cigarettes and Foxes Glacier mints. At Greenways in Devon where Agatha Christie stayed every summer for almost forty years, there is no study or writing desk, though several of her novels were recognisably set here, for this was a place for relaxation and entertaining providing the genesis for novels and mysteries to come.
The challenges Fisher has sometimes faced in gaining access to his subjects are matched by technical problems once he is installed there: poor (if atmospheric) lighting, cramped space, discomforting temperatures. These he has turned to his advantage by adopting various ingenious ploys – for instance, by treating the doorway into a room rather as if it were a camera shutter, slowly retreating out of the space as he paints so as to reveal more of the interior, causing the fourth (corridor) wall to disappear as in a stage set.
Other houses in Britain associated with writers appealing to John Fisher include John Milton’s cottage at Chalfont St Giles (the first writer’s home to be preserved in this country), the Jane Austen house at Chawton, William Wordsworth’s birthplace and Dove Cottage at Grasmere, Sir Walter Scott’s Abbotsford, Thomas Hardy’s home at Max Gate and the cottage at Zennor where D H Lawrence and Frieda spent a precarious and explosive period with John Middleton Murry and Katherine Mansfield before they were ejected by the local population towards the end of the First World War.
‘Freud once suggested that a house, when summoned in a dream, represents the soul of a dreamer. This is certainly true of writers, who make a profession of dreaming, and whose houses often reflect their spirit long after they have departed the premises. I’ve always been fascinated by houses where writers have lived and worked, and have made far-flung pilgrimages to many of these sites of significant dreaming. One longs to sit in these houses, to wander their dark corridors and look out of their windows, to observe their peculiar angle of vision on the outside world…
John Fisher’s patience, and his willingness to sit for long hours in a writer’s house, have paid off handsomely. These are oil paintings on thick paper, although the painter has somehow managed to create a lightness, almost a transparency in the paint itself reminiscent of watercolours. With a huge capacity for what Keats once called Negative Capability, Fisher has lost himself in these houses, willing to submit to the vision of another artist. This selflessness has allowed him to enter each distinct imagination with a humble reverence, with a modesty that amounts, in the end, to something like courage.’
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