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A Spirit Lingers 

Local artists gather at 1708 to remember one of their own.

click to enlarge Local artists and friends of prolific artist, Bill Fisher, tell stories at 1708 Gallery on May 30.
  • Local artists and friends of prolific artist, Bill Fisher, tell stories at 1708 Gallery on May 30.

Dozens of people fill 1708 Gallery to mingle and listen to tributes to the prolific painter Bill Fisher, who died in late April.

Fisher was known for his abstract paintings using cold wax and layers of paint with marks or symbols on large wood panels. He had exhibited and sold work in major cities from New York to Boston, with the Reynolds Gallery exhibiting his work locally at the time of his death, according to his original art dealer, Jay Barrow.

The consensus at the May 30 memorial is that Fisher was a deeply generous person, an artist’s artist. And that he could be his own worst enemy. Longtime substance abuse was a factor in his relatively early death at 59, according to the artist’s son, Miguel Carter-Fisher.

His son says that his father strove to create work that was personal, but also open enough that people could bring their own experiences and expectations to it.

While cleaning out his father’s studio after his death, Carter-Fisher came across stacks of books on recovery. They are an indication, he believes, of how desperately his father wanted to get better.

“His college friends didn’t think he’d make it to 30,” his son says. “Which speaks volumes about his perseverance that he stayed with us as long as he did.”

Tonight the crowd of artists, gallery owners, friends and art lovers listen as a Who’s Who of the Richmond art scene shares their memories.

“We all had different perspectives of Bill,” says photographer Georgianne Stinnett. “I feel like he’s here with us, celebrating his own effect on people.” That sentiment is echoed by many who feel that Fisher’s presence hovers in the room.

Painter Diego Sanchez speaks about R.A.G., the Richmond Artist Guys, a loose collective in the ‘90s who’d visit each other’s studios on Wednesdays to offer critiques. “His legacy is his work and the passion and honesty he had for the love of painting,” Sanchez says. “That’s what kept him going.”

Another painter, Kendra Wadsworth, wears a black “Painters Gonna Paint” T-shirt to the event because Fisher had worn the same shirt to the opening of Sanchez’s recent show at Quirk Gallery, the last event he attended before his death.

When Wadsworth first met Fisher, her drawing instructor at Virginia Commonwealth University, she was only 17 but felt an immediate connection. She recalls a gentle soul with edges, a man who never harmed other people, only himself. “When I’m painting, I am channeling through Bill because Bill is still alive [to me],” she says. “When I get stuck, I say, ‘All right, Bill, what are we going to do now?’ He’s still ever-present.”

Some stories told are pure Fisher. Richmond Magazine writer Harry Kollatz tells one about Fisher’s attempts at working as a caricature artist at King’s Dominion, complete with smock and beret. When he displayed the caricature he’d done of a woman, she told him it looked ugly. “Truth hurts,” Fisher purportedly told her, and she marched directly to management to lodge a complaint. It was the end of his King’s Dominion tenure.

Ultimately Carter-Fisher hopes that his father’s death enlightens the Richmond community to the serious issues that claimed his father: alcohol enablement and substance abuse.

“One of the best ways to honor my father would be for people to educate themselves about addiction,” he says.

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