'The way I see it, my paintings are more like sculptures. I see them as objects on the wall that have a particular surface. The paint applied is just one possible layer' (U. Fischer, quoted in interview with M. Gioni, in B. Curiger, M. Gioni & J. Morgan (eds.), Urs Fischer: Shovel in a Hole, exh. cat., New Museum, New York, 2009, p. 60).
Towering above us, Mr. Toobad engulfs the viewer in a curiously evocative dreamscape of Urs Fischer's imagining. A breathtaking iteration of burgeoning springtime, the remarkably subtle palette of the misty blues, palest mauves and dusky blushes suggests a renewed flourishing of seasons within this surreal landscape. Sharing its name with a character from the 19th Century English poet Thomas Love Peacock's Nightmare Abbey, a Manichaean Millenarian, whose dualistic doctrine suggests the world is governed by the conflicting powers of light and dark, good and evil, the fecundity suggested by the proliferation of mushroom-like blooms seems at odds with the knotted and gnarled branches which twist across the front of the picture plane. Included in the artist's 2009 solo exhibition at the New Museum, New York, Mr. Toobad operates on both a conceptual level and a richly visual one, revitalising the classic art historical landscape genre to create a powerfully contemporary artistic narrative.
Playfully overturning notions of originality and traditional notions of authorship, Mr. Toobad acts as a Post-Modern revisiting of Vincent van Gogh's Branch of an Almond Tree in Blossom, which itself was a study of the Japanese woodcut print by Hokusai. In 1887, van Gogh made copies of two designs of the Japanese landscape by the printmaker Hiroshige, filling the borders with appropriated calligraphic figures lifted from unrelated Japanese prints. A comment on the appropriation and reinterpretation within the art historical canon, here Fischer imbues the canvas with references to both traditional and contemporary Japanese icongraphy; the mushrooming buds of the asymmetric trees defying any natural taxonomy, would appear more at home in a Japanese anime. Belonging to a grouping of distinctly Japonist paintings, similar works from this series are included in the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Dakis Joannou Collection, Athens, and Sammlung Ringier, Zurich.
As seen in the artist's celebrated exhibition at Palazzo Grassi in 2012 where he presented his artist's studio as an installation, Fischer works across several media, incorporating materials as diverse as foodstuff, wax, taxidermy, mirrors and paint to explore the very essence of what it means to be an artist. Here, Fischer radically transforms the traditionally flat, planar quality of the Japanese woodcut prints so admired by van Gogh, creating a three-dimensional picture plane defined by his overlay and stapling of images. Mr. Toobad comments not only on the role of the artist, but is also a self-reflective exploration into the practice of painting and mark making, as demonstrated through the virtuous assemblage of paint, glass and lacquer built upon the three dimensional wooden tableau. As Fischer said, 'the way I see it, my paintings are more like sculptures. I see them as objects on the wall that have a particular surface. The paint applied is just one possible layer' (U. Fischer, quoted in interview with M. Gioni, in B. Curiger, M. Gioni & J. Morgan (eds.), Urs Fischer: Shovel in a Hole, exh. cat., New Museum, New York, 2009, p. 60). In this sense, Mr. Toobad can be seen as a sculptural work that exhibits Fischer's characteristic showmanship and reflects his theatrical talent for staging his artwork. The tactility of the dense layers beckon close inspection, revealing ghostly remnants of cartoonish hands which appear and disappear in the misty foreground, while ebony branches appear crisply articulated despite the shroud of mist.
Fischer further stirs curiosity in the viewer through his employment of intentionally equivocal titles, a linguistic tragicomic complementing the esoteric quality of his works. While the title hints at a representational meaning, in the opaque smokiness of the landscape, it provides no clues to the artist's enigmatic meaning beyond his intention to stir our imagination. Echoing the visual arrangement of familiar components into a maladroit juxtaposition, its elements are recognisable yet distinctively disconnected from their origins. Fischer's mechanised works poignantly deplete these associations, as Fischer explains, 'art is like people; you cannot reduce them to a couple of sentences, they are much more complex, much richer' (U. Fischer, quoted in interview with M. Gioni, in B. Curiger, M. Gioni & J. Morgan (eds.), Urs Fischer: Shovel in a Hole, exh. cat., New Museum, New York, 2009, p. 62).