A close-up shot of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s face, Prince Charles atop his horse playing polo, and Dom DeLuise in drag pouring wine: What do these three things have in common? Nothing really, except that images of them, as well as many other well-known people, places, products, and tropes, appear in the uniquely humorous and witty compositions of artist Celeste Fichter.
In her three serial projects Sign Language (2010–present), Spanglish (2011), and Significant Others (2009–2010), Fichter incorporates a wide range of materials and subjects to “investigate the relationship between verbal and visual language, and explore the distance between meaning and representation.” While each series has a different focus, Fichter’s methods and approach are similar, as she incorporates drawing, collage, photography, video, sculpture, and installation into all three.
The Spanglish series, including works Dom DeLuise (Where’s Louise?) (2011) and Poor K (Porque) (2011), are based on the premise of the artist’s flawed understanding of the Spanish language after reading from a Spanish-language dictionary. Poor K (Porque) depicts a folded, seemingly abandoned yellow letter K resting against a stone wall. The work has an obvious linguistic twist: In Spanish, porque means “because” and por que means “why,” but there is something more at play. Fichter allows the words porque, por que, and “poor” with a “K” to be interchangeable subjects in a limited number of mundane and unanswerable statements and questions: Because, poor k, why; poor k, why, because; and so on. Fichter has set up a witty visual–textual juxtaposition, but she also opens up an endless loop of negotiation between language and vision, between what we think we know and realize we don’t, between writing and speaking, which makes these works deeply intriguing: why, poor K, because.
Significant Others, like Spanglish, reads immediately as humorous. Fichter juxtaposes objects, images, videos, and installations with each other to create meaningful and supportive relationships. In Pair (2010), a Polaroid headshot of a blonde woman is adhered to a brown-spotted artificial pear. The pair of the pear and the woman, does, in fact, pare the image of the woman, creating another series of puns. Her dirty blonde hair provides a visual back-and-forth between image and object in relation to the yellow and brown of the plastic pear.
Pop (2010), part of the Significant Others series, juxtaposes a photograph that depicts Prince Charles dressed in a blue, red, and white uniform in a game of polo, with an aluminum can of spinach that features the cartoon icon of Popeye the Sailor Man, the spokesman for spinach. Popeye grins his familiar open-mouthed toothless smile, with a corncob pipe protruding from the left side of his mouth, and his bizarrely large forearms standing as testament to the unreal strength-inducing powers of spinach. Prince Charles is the closest thing England has to a king, and is father of two princes; he displays his own kind of unreal strength—a cultural strength—in which England’s traditions, polo being one, continue on in perpetuity no matter what else is happening in the world. Fichter may well have created the image of Prince Charles and the label on the spinach can in her studio, because the colors match all too perfectly.
In her series Sign Language, the artist continues her pointed pairing of images and objects. Rocks incorporates an image of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, the professional wrestler now turned actor, with a small rock adhered to the image and covering his nose, while a larger rock, resting on the floor, holds the two up and together, acting like a pedestal.
While a few of the messages in Fichter’s work seem facile, her ability to find and put together the types of objects and images portrayed in these series is astounding. Her work is continually humorous and significantly expands what images and objects can mean. Her works embark on exciting lines of inquiry and thought, leaving viewers with more than they imagined possible from remarkably quotidian objects.
Fichter makes a point of tearing apart language, across multiple idioms, and with subtle complexity—only to reunite the objects, places, people, and ideas with punned and misunderstood descriptors. Even while the viewer is pondering Fichter’s works’ meanings, they flip the act of seeing from a passive experience into an active reading of images and objects. Further, her work consistently encourages long and deliberate looking at the images and objects that she juxtaposes, not just as artworks but as motifs and parts of the world outside of the gallery walls.
Celeste Fichter lives and works in New York. She has a BA from William Paterson University, Wayne, NJ, and an MA in Photography and Related Media from the School of Visual Arts, New York, NY. Her work has been exhibited internationally in institutions including: Dumbo Arts Center, Brooklyn, NY; Artists Space, New York; Gwen Frostic School of Art, Western Michigan University, MI; One Minute Film & Video Festival, Aarau, Switzerland; Hunter Museum of American Art, Chattanooga, TN; Hyde Park Center, Chicago, IL; and Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT. Fichter’s work is collected internationally by institutions including: Pi Fernandino Collection, Madrid, Spain; Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, Cedar Rapids, IA; and the Fundacion-Coleccion EPPCI, Mexico.