R.M. Fischer’s sculpture has undergone a transformation. Fischer—whose works are in the collections of the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, the Dallas Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Nelson-Atkins in Kansas City; whose public art projects include a 50-foot-high steel and bronze arch in Battery Park City, New York, 30-foot-tall steel gates in MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, and monumental lighted wall sculpture in a Gifu, Japan train station; and who was awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship in 2011—has gone from creating outsize pieces in aluminum, brass, steel, and electric light to utilizing vinyl, fabric, thread, and felt in domestic scale works. His work has evolved from hard to soft, from industrial to hand-wrought, from muscular to buxom. But the artist has some disdain for a masculine vs. feminine assessment of his new projects compared to his sculpture from the 1980s and 1990s. “I never really considered those associations in the making of the work,” he wrote in an email message. “I know those may be generally accepted associations. I think my work has always had aspects of both masculine and feminine.”
His work was recently on view at the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art in Peekskill, New York. Today, Fischer’s sculpture is made of materials that may be more at home in a traditional sewing circle than in the studio of a long-term, downtown Manhattan artist. The current pieces straddle the line between pillow and doll, recognizable and abstract, sculpture and plaything. There are wall pieces, freestanding floor works and tabletop sculpture. Each work is titled with the artist’s initials and a number following as in RMF 489 or RMF 2031.
What caused a recognized artist with national commissions to abandon his trajectory, materials, and public outreach by turning to soft sculpture which has the scale of a cuddle toy and the form of a surreal object? “The sewing thing sort of came out of nowhere, it seems,” Fischer explained. “I found locally made, handcrafted pillows in a thrift store in Baltimore when I was visiting my daughter at college. I took them back to the studio and started sewing things on them and in the process changing their form.” Because stitches are visible on the sculpture’s surface, they emphasize the hand in the handmade, yet have a sense of irony and sophisticated knowingness. His colorful work veers towards figuration because of regular additions of sewn-on eyes, gaping mouths and padded limbs.
Fischer doesn’t perceive a disconnect between his earlier, industrial scale objects and his latest work in terms of the artist’s process. “I have always worked in my studio with my hands, even while being involved with public art projects, on constructed human scale sculptures,” he explained. Perhaps it was the artist‘s openness to reinvigorated materials and a change in method that enabled him to find a new form in sculpture. “I had been struggling in my studio during the late nineties and early 2000s searching for a fresh content for my studio work…and during this time I became interested in ‘designer toys’ that had become a phenomenon, selling from specialty stores such as Tokyo Toy and Kid Robot. I started collecting some of these toys.”
Fischer has created a sculptural language that is part homespun and part vanguard. The works nod to Hans Bellmer’s photographs of mangled and manipulated dolls of the 1930s, Claes Oldenburg’s 1960s soft sculpture and Yayoi Kusama’s 1962 sewn armchair and couch with phallic forms. But Fischer’s project is impossible to shoehorn into established art history styles or movements. Rather, the new work may channel a return to the solitary creation of handcrafted work in a high-strung art world.