Fitch Perfect

Artist Douglass Fitch welcomed to UB as part of 2014 Signature Series

On April 10, 2014

  • Douglass Fitch, a renowned artist in the fields of theatre, music and visual art, poses at the opening of his “Visual Signatures. Constructed Drawings” exhibition in that Kaveeshwar Gallery, with one of his hand-made sets from his live animation rendition of Peter and the Wolf.

Imagine a small dollhouse, complete with miniature dolls that become animated as their handlers move them through the rooms. The scene is childlike and nostalgic; it has no determined ending.

Now imagine a similar scene, but instead of a dollhouse, there is a hand painted and hand-crafted theater set. And instead of dolls, there are hand-cut, paper puppets that sail through the scene - entering on one side and exiting on the other.

Finally, think of this tiny scene projected upon the back wall of a large, full theater. The animated puppets are brought to life by artistically sculpted symphonies produced by some of the largest philharmonic orchestras that tour the world.

A story is created. This is Douglass Fitch's work.

Fitch is a renowned theater director, visual artist, puppeteer and designer. His talents blur together into an amalgam of artistic outlets. As part of President Satish Tripathi's annual spring tradition that began last year, the Signature Series, Fitch and his art have been in residence at UB.

In the fall of 2014, Fitch will become UB's inaugural College of Arts and Sciences WBFO Visiting Professor.

"I think it's a fantastic opportunity for all different departments," said Chantal Calato, a visiting assisting professor at UB. "They aren't ordinarily exposed to this working method, so I think they're going to have their horizons brightened."

On Wednesday, Tripathi welcomed Fitch and his exhibition, "Visual Signatures: Constructed Drawings," to the Kaveeshwar Gallery on the fifth floor of Capen Hall. After brief speeches from Tripathi and Fitch, Fitch walked around the room with a visible excitement.

His passion for art began at a young age.

He spoke of a childhood fixated by the power of puppetry. He told the audience how discipline was never his strong point, how he would ignore the commands that his father gave to him and how the only discipline strategy that worked was when he was told to do something by a puppet.

His family became heavily involved within the puppet world. They began running a puppet theater. His upbringing was immersed in creativity.  

"All over the world, puppets were never a children's thing - it was a real art form," Fitch said. "A completely seriously, maybe folk art form, but definitely serious. And it was a way of storytelling."

Fitch has taken this love of artistic storytelling and created a career. In 2007, he co-founded "Giants are Small," a now hugely celebrated production company based in New York. "Giants are Small" is renowned for its unexpected range of genre-merging productions, which assimilate together to provide a fusion of live filmmaking, puppetry, music and visual art. It's live animation.

"The world of puppets means that you're creating a whole world. You're kind of creating a parallel universe," Fitch said. "It's an art form that allows you to really invent almost every part of it. It's a way of putting on theatre where every part, even the theatre itself, you're building. So it was great freedom and a great education in investigating things."   

Though artistic extravagance is apparent in Fitch's work, the idea of functionality is one that resonates with him - not just as something he eagerly wants to convey, but also as an aspect that rouses cynicism within him. While growing up within the art world of the '70s and '80s, he saw dramatic changes being made.

"Suddenly there was a new function for the art world - and that was to produce high-end luxury goods and products that were very expensive," Fitch said. "And that was the function - and I thought that was pretty weird."

Consequently, Fitch's artwork is expressively fun. During his time at UB, he intends to impart this outlook on art through the varying art departments, specifically music, dance and visual arts.

Fitch's plans are extensive - they bounced around the room of the Center For the Arts Black Box Theatre during a "fireside chat" Thursday afternoon. The audience added their own ideas and the collaborations began.

"He's a really smart guy. I like what he says about visual literacy and the elements around that," said Ian Shelanskey, a senior theater design major. "All his work is incredible."



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