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"I just decided to quit messing around and to do what I wanted to do," she says quietly. "I'd gone back and forth for so long -- since my 20s. I was responding to the feeling that art wasn't a responsible thing to do with my life. And that I would never be good enough to ever do anything with it. And I never had encouragement from the people around me."
Fuhrer says she's found the encouragement, finally, in her professors at TWU and in Hicks, and in the gallerygoers who discovered her work on Gallery Night. She also teaches life drawing there and includes some serious anatomy studies for her students as she finishes out more art for her master's thesis exhibition. Fuhrer says her next body of work may explore the figure, and there's a touch of Kiki Smith's sensibilities when she talks about applying neurophysiology and other pre-med courses to her artwork in the future. For now, though, her obsession on the "metal deities" of the commuter culture are taking all of her time. Some of the work on view at Handley-Hicks will make it into her master's show, she says. "I thought maybe it was a little too silly, and that it would have to be more serious," she says. "But there is a serious undertone."
Hicks says that the day she walked into Fuhrer's studio, "I was immediately in every single one of those cars. I was immediately taken into the experience of her work." The car series is more political than silly, with commentary covering air pollution from tail pipes and smokestacks; foreign oil conglomerates and America's boundless appetite for gasoline; and the stress- and anxiety-producing traffic that, coupled with road rage, seems insurmountable in the local, mass-transit-less culture. Yet, there is the Jetsons-meets-the-Flintstones cartoon landscape ambience in Fuhrer's colorful, rushing works. Her cars, though, aren't cartoony; not a single one has eyeballs for headlights, a la Speed Buggy. They do have personalities, however subtle; one looks as if it could shrug its front-fender shoulders, while another tries to swivel rear-fender hips around a sharp curve. Overall, the effect isn't as sophomoric as the description leads you to believe. It's novel. Fuhrer says her work's been criticized for its illustrative quality, and there's some of that, certainly. But her vision and similarity to "outsider" artists keeps these paintings from careening off the fine-art edge into schlock.
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In Fuhrer's "Detour," orange traffic cones whirl upside down like tornadoes, while a roller-coaster roadway wends its way along a city skyline in the distant background. The artist paints yellow detour signs with flashing amber lights and orange-and-white construction barrels among other traffic images. The only abject cartoonization of the auto appears in "Battle Between the Truck and SUVs," a quirky diptych featuring one car with saber-toothed tiger fangs where its grille ought to be. "Heat" is an outstanding effort, an oil-on-masonite work in a red and hot-orange palette, crowded with multilevel, circular parking garages, elevated freeways, and high-rise buildings that bend in the wind like weeping willows. The most poignant piece is one of nine small panels hung together in "Road Fragments." A strangely alive crush of cars seems to watch as one of their own takes a seemingly suicidal plunge off a high bridge.
Fuhrer's life experience shows in her work. At 45, she's got considerably more baggage than your average 24-year-old graduate student. Her goofy subject matter, like the artist herself, resonates with layers of maturity, self-analysis, and completeness of thought. Parts of the "Metro Driving" series are hard to forget and, as Bettye Hicks says, may haunt you for a time. But even if don't remember Merry Fuhrer's work, it's certain you'll remember her name.