Hartford Art Teacher Creates Miniature Replicas Of Artists’ Studios

10:54 a.m. EDT, May 8, 2014

The worlds Joe Fig creates are miniature, but they are full of knowledge about the artistic process.

Fig — a Simsbury resident whose studio is in Collinsville and who teaches at Hartford Art School — visits artists in their studios. He interviews them on tape and takes photos of them in their natural habitats.

He then returns to his studio and meticulously recreates dollhouse-scale sculptures of the studios, down to the most minute detail: mini pots, brushes, canvases and palettes, little magazines, books and record albums, crumpled rags thrown on the floor, dogs on the sofa, scratches on the walls, paint splotches on the floor, teeny-tiny itsy-bitsy labels on the paint tubes.

Actually, meticulous isn’t a strong enough word. Maybe obsessive?

“I don’t think about it when I’m doing it but I guess it is obsessive,” Fig said in a phone interview. “I should say also that the artists I am attracted to work in a very obsessive manner.”

Fig’s fascinating creations are the subject of two exhibits in Connecticut right now. The New Britain Museum of American Art has Fig’s work in its NEW/NOW Gallery, and the Five Points Gallery in Torrington is showcasing Fig’s work in an exhibit alongside work by fellow Hartford Art School Prof. Power Boothe.

The New Britain show, which focuses on female artists, features sculptures of the studios of Hilary Harkness, Kate Gilmore, Petah Coyne, Tara Donovan, Ursula von Rydingsvard, Inka Essenhigh, Janaina Tschäpe and Ellen Altfest. It also features paintings by Fig and audio recordings of some of his artist interviews.

The Torrington show has a full-sized dollhouse sculpture of the studio of Ross Bleckner as well as smaller sculptures of the studios of Adam Cvijanovic and Leonardo Drew. The Torrington show also features many examples of the next stage of Fig’s work: photographing the sculptures.

“Turning the three-dimensional image back to two-dimensional brings the painter side back to me,” said Fig. Photos in the Five Points exhibit show his sculpted studios of April Gornik, Eric Fischl, Inka Essenhigh, Matthew Ritchie, Malcolm Morley and Chuck Close.

Fig considers his studio sculptures a form of portraiture.

“All studios are different. … The creative process is reflected in how the studio is set up. How does it reflect in the art made in that space?” Fig saild. “It could easily relate to anybody. Where do you work? What does your space say about you? What do you keep around you in your space that inspires you?”

Fig’s project began in sort of a goofy way. His sister-in-law was getting married and his wife asked him to make sculptures of the bride inside snow globes to use as engagement party favors. Later, he saw an Alice Neel exhibit at The Whitney, and in tribute made a snow globe with Neel in it.

“The snow globe was too limiting, the image was too cartoony, too small, only about three inches,” he said. ” I thought, why limit myself to the snow globe?”

Around the same time he was starting in grad school at the School of Visual Arts in New York, where students all had studios clustered together on two floors of a building.

He started by creating studios of deceased abstract expressionist painters — De Kooning, Pollock, etc. — but found his success limited by the lack of photos to work with. So he began visiting the studios of living artists. He interviews each about their background and their work. Then he takes studio photos as the basis for his sculptures. He makes all the tiny items himself with plastic, wood or polymer clay.

And what do the artists think of the depictions of themselves? “The best reaction is usually laughter, in a good way. They find humor in the obsessive quality and the detail,” he said. “They can’t believe the excess I go to to get all these accurate details, the labels on boxes, the scribbles on the walls.”

NEW/NOW: JOE FIG will be at New Britain Museum of American Art, 56 Lexington St. in New Britain, until July 20. Details: www.nbmaa.org.

JOE FIG: INSIDE THE STUDIO will be at Five Points Gallery, 33 Main St. in Torrington, until May 17. Details: www.fivepointsgallery.org.

Copyright © 2014, The Hartford Courant

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *