Joe Fig stays busy as chair of the fine arts department at the Ringling College of Art and Design, where he also teaches advanced painting classes. But he says it’s important to find balance between that career and his own time in the studio. “Doing my work makes me better at teaching and administration, and feeds my mental health,” he says.
Fig, whose output includes sculptures, photographs and paintings (he’s also authored two books looking inside artists’ studios), has for the past few years been producing his “Contemplation” series. It consists of intimately sized paintings depicting viewers studying works by artists like Rembrandt, Warhol and more that are hanging on the walls of various museums and galleries. It seems a natural step from peering inside an artist’s studio to visiting the venue where the work is ultimately made public.
To begin, Fig takes photographs of strikingly absorbed viewers who capture his interest “(I love people watching,” he says), then works with them digitally to create a composition based on form and color. From there, he paints in oil on linen. It can take three to four weeks from conception to final execution. His most recent exhibition of the series, which closed last month at the Cristin Tierney Gallery in New York City, garnered a positive review in The New Yorker, which praised his “sharp, lustrous compositions.” Fig has created 36 in the series so far, and he plans to continue with “Contemplation” for the near future.