Fuchs’ paintings explore objects’ relationships to memory, self

Francesca Fuchs and her painting “Ladybug” at the Art Museum of Southeast Texas. Photo by Andy Coughlan

The philosopher John Locke argued that memory is a necessary condition of identity. The objects in Francesca Fuchs’ paintings are hazy, as though hidden behind a veil. These objects are imbued with memory and experience. They are the building blocks of identity.

Fuchs’ exhibition, “Serious and Slightly Funny Things,” is on display at the Art Museum of Southeast Texas through March 13, 2022.

Fuchs gives us paintings of objects from her life, objects that have meaning beyond the literal function of the object. We can take it further by arguing that the objects in the paintings do not literally exist for us, they are simply illusions of the objects as Fuchs represents them. Rene Magritte’s painting, “The Treachery of Images,” which features a pipe, bears the words, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (This is not a pipe). Magritte plays with us. Of course, it is not a pipe. It is a painting. Fuchs’ objects are also not objects — they are simply paintings of objects. But then, one can argue the painting is itself an object, but that is a slippery slope we want to avoid here.

Fuchs paintings are almost ghostly. The colors are important — the artist added hints of color to the walls to further blur the line between memory and reality — but they are not vibrant.

“Ladybug” is a painting of a rock Fuchs painted as a youngster in the 1970s, which her parents had kept. A faint streak of red on the wall picks up the color from the painting. This craft project has a universality. We have all painted rocks for some art project.

The ladybug rock is red, but not the vibrant red we expect. The blue candlestick seems somewhat muted. Fuchs is not trying to give us the object, but the impression of the object that is drawn from memory. It is, in some ways, a ghost image. The objects are there to see, but we can also imagine ourselves being able to reach through them — if we try to touch them, they will disappear. Fuchs said the images are like photographs that have faded with age, as our memories fade.

Fuchs plays with the concept of memory filtered through the paintings. The familiar objects in the paintings may or may not have value as objects, but as representations of memory they have high emotional value. During a gallery talk on opening night Fuchs said she grew up in a family of collectors. The objects she chooses to paint have not only a personal connection but also are universal. We all have objects that transcend the literal meaning of the piece.

“Reinhild B.” by Francesca Fuchs. Photo by Andy Coughlan

“Reinhild B.” is literally a painting of a painting. The original picture was made by her sister’s friend. But Fuchs’ image is not just of the painting, it also includes the glass frame with its clips clearly visible. We are invited to view the work through a layer of glass as well as a layer of memory.

Fuchs was initially trained as a sculptor and for the first time she has included sculpture in an exhibition. A series of clay vases and cups are effectively 3-dimensional paintings — brightly colored and somewhat cartoonish. She is not seeking pristine smoothness. Like the paintings, these are representations of remembered objects she has collected from thrift shops.

“Mugs and Vases,” forgeround, and “Relief” by Francesca Fuchs. Photo by Andy Coughlan

Fuchs is interested in our relationship to objects and how we bring things into the home. Why do we connect to certain things and how does that thing move through the world?

Fuchs work has a spontaneity that is at odds with her careful process. She does drawings and watercolors of the works before the finished painting. The process is a dialogue with the object. It is an investment of time. The individual pieces are also part of a larger work, the exhibition itself. Fuchs’ hints of color — she extends a swath of green around “Biese 3,” and even extends the color of the floor to the wall — serve to accentuate the blurring lines between real and unreal, between present and memory.

As part of her site-specific exhibition, Francesca Fuchs extended the floor to the wall to delineate the boundaries. Photo by Andy Coughlan

Objects like the ladybug are amusing, but the works are more than slightly serious. Memory is serious. Identity is serious. Fuchs invites us to connect with her through her objects and memories. By engaging with her journey, we may engage better with our own.

There is a sense of immortality that infuses the works. Carlos Ruiz Zafón said that we exist as long as we are remembered. Each of the objects we surround ourselves with are imbued with memories. The ones we choose to keep with us define who we are.

Fuchs’ wonderful exhibition challenges us to think of our relationship to our objects and to honor the emotional journey of both the objects and ourselves.

The Art Museum of Southeast Texas is located at 500 Main St. in Beaumont. For more information, visit www.amset.org.

This story originally ran in the Dec. 31, 2021 Art of Living section of The Beaumont Enterprise.

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