Sunday, March 12, 2000

Artist works with bits, pieces

Clifton muralist's sweeping mosaic mural will fill wall in college's new building

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Suzanne Fisher sits amid the giant ceramic mural she's creating for Southern State College.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
        The floor of Suzanne Fisher's studio is strewn with shattered crockery. Broken tiles, pieces of plates and cups are everywhere. But they are not randomly scattered. Shapes and colors are arranged in orderly piles.

        “Some of it comes from tile manufacturers, some of it comes from thrift stores; dishes and plates with decals on them; things with a history of previous use,” the artist says.

        This is a mosaic mural in the making. It will fill a wall in the lobby of a new building at Southern State College at Wilmington.

        “The space is fairly interesting. It is only about 12 feet deep, but it's is 52 feet wide and 18 feet high,” Ms. Fisher says. The mosaic will be 7 feet high and 50 feet long. “That's a lot of tile. You can't stand back and see it all at once.”

        Piles of tile occupy about half the floor space in Ms. Fisher's studio. The rest is covered with a broad scene of pillars, vines and farm fields put together from the pieces of ceramic.

        This commission was too large for her studio at home.

        “I have a studio in my house, in Clifton, but I had to rent a large studio with lots of floor space for this project,” she says.

        As large as it is, about 1,500 square feet, Ms. Fisher's studio is only a corner of a floor in the vast former Hamilton Tailoring Co. on McMillan Street in Walnut Hills. Until recently it was a men's clothing manufacturer. The cutting tables and sewing machines are still there, but the building is being converted into artists' studios.

        “It's nice to have a studio at home,” Ms. Fisher says. “You can get up and work in the middle of the night in your pajamas. But, now that I'm set up here, it would be nice to get more large projects so I could afford to keep the space. We'll move this out of here (to Wilmington) by the end of March, but I'll need to keep the space long enough to do the pig I'm doing for the Big Pig Gig.”

        The pig for the gig, a public art project that will help kick off Cincinnati's Flying Pig Marathon on May 14, will be “partially mosaic,” she says. “And I'm thinking of covering the wings with broken windshield glass.”

Murals to video
        Ms. Fisher, 42, is community education director at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. She was born in Cleveland, “grew up on the East Coast, came back to northern Ohio, went to Miami University; then I lived in San Francisco, came back to Cincinnati for my graduate degree.”

        She lived in New York during an Ohio Arts Council residency at the PS1 art center. “Then I came back to Cincinnati. I've lived here longer than I've lived any place else. I had not planned on that, but it happened.”

        Her projects range from murals to video. Her first mosaic mural is in the Plaza 600 restaurant downtown. Her video, Venus Envy, is a fantasy based on images of women in art history. It was featured on the Bit Screen, a Web site for Internet films, in January.

        The Southern State College commission came about because of Ohio's rule that publicly funded buildings have to spend 1 percent of their budget on visual art.

        “They wanted something that would address the school and its location,” she says. “It is a two-year college, with mostly non-traditional students. I went there and all I saw was these farm fields. So I thought of a series of columns as support; the building, the faculty, the staff that sort of nurtures the students, and there are these vines that grow around the columns. They grow here for a while and then they grow somewhere else.

        “The farm fields and the tree line are behind the columns and they sort of go through the day. The sky changes. Everything changes, except the columns.”

        A crew of assistants has been sorting, cleaning and breaking tiles, and gluing them to a mesh. Now, with the design in place, Ms. Fisher is working alone.

Stand back and look
        “You have to have time to stand back and look. That's a big part of making art, not so much doing as looking, to decide what's working and what's not.”

        In some places, all the tiles are too much of the same size. In another, they create a kind of river running through what is supposed to be an area of sky. Here and there are bits that are obviously broken bits of old dishes and cups that have a history.

        “First you take in the whole picture, and then you start to see these bits that had a previous life. You find a piece like this one: a piece of a plate like the plate my grandmother used to serve Sunday dinner on. These are the elements that stand out in the piece.”

        Ms. Fisher says it has been interesting to work where people used to cut cloth and make clothes.

        “The first art I ever did was when I was 21/2 years old, and my father worked for the American Felt Co. He used to bring home all these scraps of colored felt. I used to take them and scraps from my mother's sewing pile and glue them onto paper.

        “I think all my art is about putting bits and pieces together. Even my video is made from editing bits into a story. It's what my art is about, gathering bits and pieces and putting them together to make something new.”


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