Thursday, August 21, 2014

My father, the artist

When you think back in your life to your earliest memories, it can be confusing what is a real memory or what you might have seen captured in a photograph and claim to remember. My mother kept a shoe box full of black and white early photos of our family in the closet, so there were certainly many of those moments saved for prosperity. But my first 'actual' memory and the one there is no photo of, just the image in my mind, is me standing in the basement of our house in Whitestone next to my dad's drafting table. I was not any taller than the table and I could barely see what he was drawing. To this day, when I think of an artist, I think of my father, his ideas, his projects, and his views on creativity in a very changing world. When I think of a proper art studio and the tools you would need to have to be an artist, I do not think of a computer screen and a stylus, I remember his drafting table, his brown metal lamp angled over the table, and his file cabinets filled with magazine clippings of pictures. Consider Pinterest, the best social media tool of all! That was his file cabinet, a place to keep everything and anything visual that he might want to refer to again at some point.

Although they claim differently, all the members of my family were talented, creative people. My grandmother, Baboo, was a seamstress. I still have her wooden singer sewing machine table with the treadle base that you pedal to make it go. I still have and treasure her handmade beaded evening purses that I am afraid to use because they are so fragile. My mother was a fantastic artist with a crochet hook, knitting needles, and embroidery thread. My dad would design projects for her that she would lovingly sew and then display in the house alongside his paintings. Talk about collaboration...a goal they try to teach us at school every year, as if it was a new concept! And my brother, Rick, who believes the creative gene completely bypassed him altogether was at one time a glass artist, and today, as a retired elementary school principal, he is a very creative chef and so passionate about anything that interests him...a sure sign of creativity waiting to happen at any turn.

But it is Daddy who we all think of as the artist. Robert Fisher grew up in Brooklyn, went to school for art when that was not quite the thing to do, and earned his degree in Industrial Design. I remember him working as a package designer when I was really young. At the end of the day, he would bring home a big poly bag of cheese because he was designing the container for Friendship cottage cheese. The little blue bird on the Friendship container that kind of looks like today's symbol for Twitter? That's my dad. For many years, he was also an art director at Ideal Toys, but it is not the brilliant toy package designs and illustrations that I remember, it is his score of creative hobbies at home that captured my interest.

We used to take long walks together in search of the perfect rocks. On these rocks, my dad would design an abstract painting and sit for hours with his ruling pen filled with acrylic paint and a magnifying lens strapped to his head, ruling perfect lines and arcs onto the surface of the rocks. These beautiful little specimens of art were displayed around the house along with his huge painted canvases with the same inspired designs. He always kept a sketchpad on him at all times and told me how important it was to draw every day.

Eventually, photography became his favorite medium. Taking his camera out on a Saturday morning in the city was only the first step in the creative process of photography for my father. He worked mostly with black and white film and in his self-constructed darkroom in the basement he became a scientist experimenting with chemicals and light to develop his own prints. His study of a manhole cover found on the streets of Manhattan became more of a beautiful abstract design than just a mounted photograph. His photo of an older man sitting outside a building in Soho who Daddy struck up a conversation with that day, turned into a dimensional image in a shadow box that pulls the viewer into the scene through its pure whimsy and unbelievably brilliant construction. His solitary black and white photograph of a chair on the beach became a lovely colorful image that he hand dyed with Dr. Martin dyes. The creative process in photography, to Daddy, was so much more than just taking the camera out for a walk.

"Boys of Summer"
one of his computer illustrations that reminds me
so much of his paintings and rock designs
These days, he no longer owns his beautiful drafting table or has access to a darkroom. About to celebrate his 88th birthday, my father is a true renaissance man. New developments in technology are simply new tools for him to explore and experiment with. Just last night our phone conversation was all about how he is playing around with the latest version of Adobe Illustrator 'on the cloud' and is learning how to do a particular style of computer illustration by watching YouTube tutorials. I was immediately inspired to try this out as a graphic art project with my students at school. To hear the thrill in his voice over doing something creative makes it hard for me to believe how many years he has inspired me and the next generation through my daughter, Katie, to appreciate art, to fill our lives with art, and to find our own creativity. I love you, Daddy.

me and my dad
katie and grandpa

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