Surrounded by clusters of everyday objects — mostly unaltered — I felt an overwhelming sense of fragility, humanity, hope, and warmth. What I found most astonishing about Tony Feher’s Drawn from Life at Josh Pazda Hiram Butler gallery is the artist’s ability to reveal aspects of the human condition purely by collecting, assembling, and rearranging ordinary objects into 3D drawings in space, rather than by transforming them.
As a maker and viewer, I am drawn to dramatic and innovative moments of material transformation. However, the brilliance of Feher’s work lies in the absence of its own alchemy. Feher strips away almost all transformative elements and still conveys a broad range of emotions and nuanced meanings, more striking for the pure nature of his everyday materials. With a nod to Alexander Calder, Feher’s Untitled, takes on the shape of a mobile, constructed with two white coat hangers, four vodka bottles, marbles and steel. Devoid of almost any illusion or alteration, this 3D drawing examines balance, precarity, suspension, memory and the human body, psyche, and experience.
For all their tenuous, sagging, slumping, unraveling, and ethereal qualities, these works seem to be as much about tenderness, queerness, love, joy, and rigorous play. In (The Fluorescent One), for example, a spool of twirling, tumbling, and untamable neon trimmer line erupts from a glass jar. For me, its materiality and presence evoke our desire to live and love freely, to express ourselves openly, and celebrate wildly, despite forces designed to contain or control. This work is flashy, unapologetic, queer, and delightful.
There is a definite sense of chaos and chance at play in these works. Many will never be presented the same way twice — much like the work of Eva Hesse, Robert Morris, and other minimalist artists. Feher’s Untitled, (The Fluorescent One), and Untitled (Red Bird, Jack and the Queen), are created with plastic strapping, trimmer line, and an aluminized non-stretch polyester rescue blanket, respectively — materials that are inherently disorderly and unruly. These materials, and others Feher uses, lend themselves to questions of vulnerability, fragility, and impermanence, as well as protection, fortitude, adaptability, longing, and hope.
I did not know Tony Feher. I know a few people who knew him well, and they each say he was an exceptionally kind, caring, and generous artist. I cannot help but see those qualities in his 3D drawings. On a return visit to the gallery, I noticed that Chanting One, a series of 34 glass bottles with water and food coloring, forms not one, but four waves — red, yellow, blue, and multicolored. In that moment especially, I felt a tender spirit that endures within these poetic works. By arranging collections of unaltered, everyday objects, Feher leaves space for viewers to discover meaning and connection in all things, no matter how ordinary. Deceptively simple, yet infinitely complex, these works were made by the hand of a true and humble genius.
Drawn from Life is on view at Josh Pazda Hiram Butler in Houston through January 13, 2024.