When photographer/painter/collector/world traveler/event-stager Bob Fischer and his husband Ed Proffitt decided to move north from Palm Springs, Fischer told his realtor that he would only consider houses in Berkeley. Oakland – too dangerous, too many drive-by shootings. So Berkeley it had to be.
That was in 2009. Proffitt died in 2012. Fischer soldiers on making photographs and collecting and traveling. His website gives an idea of his photographic talent and vision.
He describes the major motivations in his life as fear and sex. Whatever the motivation, his house is Quirky Berkeley Exhibit 1 to show how a lifetime of making and collecting can lead to a [PROVIDE THE SUPERLATIVE OF YOUR CHOICE] house of what Fischer calls “extraordinary things that make me happy.”
Both Debbie and Julia Vinograd, whom he admires and has photographed, insisted that I meet Fischer and see his home. I did. I am REALLY glad that I did.
Maybe a little of his life story here?
Fischer was born in Chicago in 1949. His parents were Mildred and Alvin. Alvin owned a transmission business on Chicago’s south side. Mildred was a milliner during the 1940’s, was in the chorus with Lyric Opera, and sang for the temple.
Fischer: “This is my favorite photograph of my mother – Millie Shmears on her Lipstick. My mother loved and hated being photographed and so I was relentless in putting her in front of my lens when she looked her best and when she looked her worst. It was artistic revenge.”
He got a degree in psychology,thinking that he would become a therapist. That isn’t what happened.
His wife Paula was a painter – perhaps a mediocre painter, but a painter. One day Fischer took her painting of various landmarks of Chicago and painted over it. When Paula saw what he had done, there was no wrath, just an explanation on why Fischer’s painting worked so well. Good job Paula! A painter is born!
He dabbled in straight jobs, such as working as a business service representative for the phone company. The last straight job that Fischer held was in 1976. Here is his description of the job and how he lost it.
I was working at Marshall Fields in Evanston, Illinois in the book department selling and stocking books.
It was time for me to leave my apartment in Rogers Park to take the El to Evanston when Nancy Kominsky came on the TV. She painted on the order of Thomas Kincade and the guy who painted Happy Trees (Editor’s note: Bob Ross). She was one of the cadres of bad artists and I loved watching her Jewish New York schtick. The clock was ticking and I could see that I was going to be late for work. I turned over the clock and said “Fuck it” to myself and went out and ordered a pickled tongue on rye and came back to watch the rest of Painting with Nancy. The next day when I went to work I was fired for not showing up. but it was worth staying home noshing on pickled tongue and Nancy Kominsky.
He painted but didn’t have a clear marketing plan.
He and Paula were starting a family – money was needed. His manager’s EST-inspired advice for Fischer to sell his art was “Do what works.”
Which is how Fischer stumbled into event promotion that as a corollary sold his paintings.
Acts included mud wrestlers, tango dancers in a boxing ring, Michael Jackson impersonators, and The Flying Fingers of Roberta Thompson (an accordion act), and her Tarot-reading sister.
Yes, there was a little bit of Broadway Danny Rose in there.
Then there were the overtly erotic shows,the Blueballe,at the Paradise.
Seka “The Platinum Princess of Porn” performed with two bodybuilders and another woman and a midget who used drugs, flipped out, and had to be thrown out,
In the early 1990s, Fischer and wife and three children moved to Los Angeles, to a Russian ghetto in North Hollywood. He sold every painting he had made to buy a car. Price was not an issue. He painted. He photographed.
Fischer hadn’t traveled much, but that changed when his wife came across a secret bank account that Fischer maintained. He explained that it was for a trip to Australia, and to keep the cover he went, beginning a long and good relationship with Melbourne especially. He found doors opening for him in Melbourne, a city which still draws him in.
In 1997, Fischer starred in a movie called Original Schtick. A review of the movie from online: “If you think you’ve come across the most annoying, manipulative and egotistical person you’re ever likely to meet, then think again, because you’re about to be introduced to Bob Fischer. Original Schtick follows the path of destruction and chaos carved through the lives and careers of Melbourne’s fine arts community by this one-man nouveau-pop art tornado. Fischer is a brash, hyper-confident American artist who plunges himself into a whirlpool of self-hype and media frenzy with unconcealed ambition, egotistical zeal, and an unshakeable belief in his own greatness. The result of all this obnoxious chaos and intrigue is a funny and crazy insight into the machinations of a publicity-hungry artist and the lengths people go to to attract attention and chase some cash. Original Schtick – a celebration of self-obsession on one hand and human survival on the other.”
Fischer’s next stop was Palm Springs. There he met Ed Proffitt.
His wife Paula was not happy. After some years there, it was time for the move north.
Back to the present tense – approaching Fischer’s house, there are a few hints of quirk outside.
A gentle old pit bull named Sasha.
And lots of art. There are Fischer photographs and Fischer paintings and folk art and art by others. Just amazing.
His house is an E-ticket ride to be sure. Are you ready?
This is one of the last paintings that Fischer made, about 20 years ago.
Fischer and Proffitt bought these pieces deep in the Amazon, where Tabatinga (Brazil), Leticia (Colombia), and Sata Rosa de Yavari (Peru) abut.
These pieces were originally not for sale. Taking no for an answer is not what Fischer is about. There were negotiations. Then came the woman saying “I’ll call my husband.” Then came deal and then came shlepping them around in paper bags for the rest of the trip. They are, to my eyes, just a tad scary.
This piece is from Easter Island. There is little wood on Easter Island because the trees were all forested for rolling the large stone heads into place. Features of this piece include Rapa Nui hieroglyphs and inset gems. In 1979, Sergio Rapu Haoa and a team of archaeologists discovered that the hemispherical or deep elliptical eye sockets of the large Easter Island heads were designed to hold coral eyes with either black obsidian or red scoria pupils. Same with the insets here.
Proffitt bought this Faith Mountain piece for Fischer. This is a good illustration of when kitsch becomes camp.
Christian Tabletop Decoration! Thomas Kinkade Faith Mountain Brings the Passion to Life as Exclusive Religious Decor! – Now, for the first time ever, the Passion of Christ comes alive in this 3-dimensional Christian tabletop decoration, a limited-edition masterpiece inspired by the art of The Painter of Light. The Thomas Kinkade Faith Mountain invites you to witness the historic events of Holy Week, presented in an illuminated collectible treasure of handcrafted religious decor. This dramatic Easter tabletop decoration invites you to follow Christ as He rides into Jerusalem, see His betrayal and trial, and witness His death and triumphant Resurrection – the entire story unfolds in thirteen meticulously detailed scenes with 45 sculptural figures. This amazing recreation of the story of Jesus Christ also makes a wonderful Easter gift, but it is available only from Hawthorne Village and strong demand is expected.
Fischer has a fascination for Kinkade – his huge success, his clientele, and his apparent suicide. He was eager to hear John Storey talk about photographing Kinkade years ago.
This stained glass piece is about the Holocaust – train tracks to the death camps, Nazi soldiers, gas chambers, and barbered wire.
When “Baby on Board” arrived, the nail was loose. Fischer had to pound it in. He describes the experience as disturbing.
Fischer painted his grandfather’s horse-hair chair. And replaced the horse hair.
Fischer’s son Jarrett made this painting.
This man came from Aboriginal country north of Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory of Australia.
The two larger pieces celebrate (probably not the best word) the Cultural Revolution in China with its anti-intellectual zeal. The intellectual on the left is about to be beheaded. Nice! While there –
Taking a step back:
Also visible with Mao, in Fischer’s words: “A framed original Robert Mapplethorpe photo, entitled Phillip, 1979; a framed poem by Julia Vinograd about my murano glass multi-colored chandelier, and a favorite portrait of my son, Jarrett. Phillip is my favorite Mapplethorpe image because it’s the only one with a sense of humor.”
Fischer describes this as the most disgusting piece of art he has ever seen. It is from Mazatlan. If there is a more disgusting piece of art, I don’t need to see it.
The party platter (great pun!) sits on a table from the Foundation for the Retarded.
The photograph is of Fischer’s daughter Morgan.
Three shots of a quirky bathroom blessed by a Pope.
This is by Richard Lindner (1901-1978), a German-American painter. He appears in the second row on The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover. To me, the art of Yellow Submarine drew on Lindner.
This silkscreen by Fischer has 175 colors, with two passes for each color. There are 25 images in it. The original was 8′ by 12′. Wow.
Fischer stands in this photo with the Russian printer who made the silk screen, in front of the 8X12 original.
Fischer made this painting of his daughter Morgan when she was about 16.
Love it – a little bit of Berkeley history – a John Jekabson photograph from 1969 on Telegraph.
There are four Debbie Vinograd paintings here – top left is Ed Proffitt, top right is Fischer, bottom left is Fischer’s mother Mildred, and bottom center – lemons.
Not so fast – check out the images on the fan.
Fischer went through a period of painting clothes. He made friends with Wolfgang Puck and hung the celebrity shirts like this one of Pee Wee at Spago, six at a time.
Yes, that’s a Lautrec on the left.
The figure is Merce Cunningham (1919-2009), an American dancer and choreographer who was at the forefront of American modern dance for more than 50 years.
The stairs up to the second floor.
There are strong sexual overtones in much of the work in Fischer’s house – remember that sex is one of the two great motivations in his life and keep in mind that his photography often trades on sex and sexuality.
Haesindang Park in Gangwon province, South Korea, is full of penis sculptures. So is Fischer’s house. There are many phallic statues (and a pepper shaker) around Fischer’s house. I am a good sport and don’t think of myself as a prude and I spent a fair amount of time at the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality doing slang research. That said, there is undeniably just a touch of unease in my face in this shot.
What strikes me most powerfully in Fischer’s house is the juxtaposition of folk art with avant garde photographs with modernist paintings with art by the disabled with Fischer’s big and bright and bold paintings. In the Big Room of Quirky Art that I imagine, this is the hodgepodge of art that I want. Where will this be? When will this be? I don’t know. When and where it is, I will remember the inspiration that Bob Fischer gives. I will (in my fantasy) hire Jon Balderston for design and colors of the room(s). My motivation is not what Fischer’s is – I see Big Love as my motivation for this blog and and the Big Room – but I will think of all that Fischer does.
I showed the draft post and photos to my friend. “YOU LIED!” That’s a tough way to start things off. What? “You said he lived in Berkeley. He doesn’t. He lives in Oakland.”
I took this as a frontal challenge. “I said he said he insisted on buying in Berkeley, not that he did buy or did live in Berkeley. You assumed that. I didn’t say that. Trestle Glen is a cool neighborhood. No shame in that game. Life`s a bitch so who are we to judge each other?”
Having heard my half-assed defense, he said “Weak sauce.” Hurt!
Anyways – what does he think of Fischer’s world, wherever it actually is. whatever the post code be?