September 11, 2019 830 PM
MARFA – The closing reception of “Edgewalking: Landscape Interpretations of a Poet and a Painter” at the Greasewood Gallery in the Hotel Paisano was drawing to an end when a young couple from New York made their way in and, soon enough, had purchased every remaining piece of Jim Fish’s work.
The exhibition, featuring the paintings of Meg Leonard and sculptures by Fish, was a symbol of the two artist’s long and creatively-intertwined friendship. As Leonard described it, their works, though distinct in their medium, “were borne from inspiration from the same place, the same appreciation, the same love, and the same sense of wonder.”
The show opened in July and throughout the summer, Fish’s large, wooden pieces interplayed with Leonard’s gestural landscape oils. The pair used to joke that their pieces were likely talking and dancing together in the gallery when no one was looking.
Leonard met Fish in New Mexico and after taking hikes together – her to paint, him to explore and find materials, the two would critique and refine each others works. Each New Year’s Day was spent hiking together, where the two would talk at length about their artistic work and goals.
When Fish unexpectedly died of a heart attack while hiking in 2017, Leonard couldn’t help but recall their final shared goal during their last New Year’s hike to spread their work to a broader audience. Fish was born on a ranch outside Sonora, and he and Leonard wanted to take their work to West Texas.
Leonard explained, “I kept Jim’s sculpture for the past two years in my garage. His work was shown and sold on the annual studio tours in Placitas, but it’s not the same if Jim isn’t there to explain it with his sparkle and zest. He could tell you where the wood came from, about the landscape. He made these sinuous and sensual little sculptural pieces.”
The last goal that he set before he suddenly died was to get this work to Marfa. “I felt obliged to honor that final wish and return it to his birth place,” Leonard said.
She made the trip down to West Texas the following spring, wanting to spend 10 days observing, hiking and painting quick impressionist pastels to inform her new work. After speaking with Vicki Barge at Greasewood Gallery, a show of their works was arranged; Fish’s wish would come true.
As the show wound down at Greasewood, Leonard planned with Fish’s nephew, Scott, who would be taking the remaining works to storage, unsure of their future.
Scott joined Leonard in sharing Fish’s story with the gallery visitors that closing night. As the couple learned about Fish, the man said, “The more I know about this guy, the more I like him.” The pair purchased every last piece of Fish’s work, along with some of Leonard’s.
Explaining “edgewalking,” Leonard said the concept was born during their hikes. “We related it to both liking to be on the edge, even though it gives you an uneasy feeling. Do you step back? Do you decide to fall or fly? Him as a skier, he’d choose to fly. I’d step back, but sometimes there’s that thrill of just being on the edge.”
“He wrote about edgewalking in many of his poems after we talked about it. That’s the kind of way he wanted to be remembered – as an edge walker. And I loved that I was included to walk on those edges with him, to places I never would’ve dared to go by myself.”