Alex Sainsbury

This is the first survey of Morgan Fisher’s work to place his films in close proximity to his works on paper and paintings. Fisher attends to the syntax and machinery of filmmaking, and the conventions that inform the construction of painting. He draws our attention to assumptions that determine these forms by using radically different methods to construct his own work. Fisher has wanted to break out of the frame of conventional narrative film, to explore what lies beyond its temporal and spatial continuities. He has found the conventions by which paintings relate to time and space in a gallery less fixed, and the painting frame less absolute a tyrant than the film frame.


Fisher’s films are often made using strategies characteristic of visual art. Most of his thirteen films were made in the 1970s and are associated with structural film: film that closely examines the means of its own production. He is the only filmmaker to have used this approach to reflect the Hollywood studio system. His work consistently charts the effects of industrial production on the work of art, and his painting practice developed out of contemporaneous Pop Art and Minimalism. Fisher remains preoccupied with the problem of the expressive authorial ego in the work of art, an exemplary problem of industrial production. This concern may be the result of his background in the collaborative and commercial film industry (his father’s career as an architect was also an influence) but its manifestation in all his work is informed by the approaches of avant- garde visual art. Inspired by among others Sol LeWitt and Marcel Duchamp, he generates work that is detached from an authorial hand. He uses readymades or games of chance, or applies predetermined rules, to let the work make itself.


The use of autobiography in Standard Gauge, Fisher’s film masterpiece, contradicts the usually ‘anti-subjective’ nature of his work, in most of which he seeks to dissolve the role of author composer. Despite this renunciation, the dapper artist remains present in the work, whether in revealing his favourite books and magazines or for instance in Self-Portrait. Here the threatening dissociation of the blank square is humanised by means of a ‘nomograph’. This translates Fisher’s given body mass into a flat rectangle painted on a gallery floor, marking mortal time and vivifying the stiff geometry of the monochrome.