Painter and sculptor Christine Fifer’s work synthesizes skill, idea and material into fantastic creations. More broadly known for her extravagant costume-making, Fifer channels the same luxuriant energy and artistry into her exhibited work. 

“A Novel Idea,” a collection of Fifer’s best and most innovative work, is on display at The Studios of Key West Jan. 7-28. 

“A Novel Idea” embodies storytelling and features Fifer’s more recognizable book paintings. Since the beginning of her career, she has used the canvas like a library of sorts, painting realistic stacks of books that converge on a symbolic theme. The novels balance nicely with quirky things like prayer cards, animals, timepieces and even lily pads. Illustrated with an intense nod to realism, there are also subtle surrealist tones as Fifer mixes and matches the unusual. The overall effect is the figurative discovery of meanings and messages. It’s a visual treasure trove she concocts just for the viewer.

“It’s a two-fold challenge,” said Fifer. “To get the right objects and then get the right composition.” Her canvases are an architectural feat, inviting the eye to dance around for a resting place. And when it does, a delight awaits, be it Chinese lanterns or a tiny butterfly cocoon. The books are first editions, which could seem stodgy, but the situations she thoughtfully places them in are more creative, humorous and active. For example, the painting “Time Consuming” is a delightful combination of clocks and book titles such as “A Wrinkle in Time” decorated with a nest of eggs, a bird, a peach suggesting the longevity of life. Fifer takes the stagnation and complacency out of the commonplace still life. 

While the paintings are broad-themed, Fifer has cleverly slipped more personal sculptural works into the show. “They are like a million little self-portraits to me,” said Fifer of  “Smallways,” her series of hanging book pieces. They are actual books carved with an altar-like window with a miniature doll nestled inside. The effect is powerful and can be interpreted as our childish selves mirrored in a book. Her other book sculptures, collectively called “The Bookmark Series,” also highlight for the viewer the power found in books. Fifer places photos, bits of paper, small, sentimental objects on and in the books, suggesting curiosity and importance of what a book contains.

Christine Fifer’s ‘Boots & Shoes’ is an assemblage of objects on display at The Studios of Key West; $1,400. CONTRIBUTED

Fifer’s work is fulfilling, like a good story from beginning to end. Her work is a playground of messages and a delightful tale of an artist at work.

“A Novel Idea” is on view from Jan. 7-28 at The Studios of Key West, 533 Eaton St. Other January shows at The Studios include “None of the Above” by Sally Binard, “Color Cuts” by Cynthia Back and “Creatures of the Deep” by David Dunn. The Studios’ gallery hours are noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and all the work is available for online viewing at tskw.org

New this month: The Studios is also offering “Sundays in the Gallery,” an opportunity to book a private reception for up to 10 people on a Sunday morning or afternoon. Visitors start with mimosas or a glass of wine on the rooftop, then walk through the galleries with a knowledgeable guide. The fee is $125 for 2 to 4 people and $250 for 5 to 10 people. (Fee will be refunded in the event of an art purchase).

— Hays Blinckmann for The Studios of Key West

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