A Dark Enigma

Eve Deisher at MoNA


What: "Eve Deisher: Indicator"

Where: Museum of Northwest Art, La Conner


WHEN: Through Jan. 11

Cost: Entry is free


Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Many Pacific Northwest artists and residents knew Eve Deisher during the years she and her husband, sculptor Lanny Bergner, lived in Anacortes. Her colleague at Skagit Valley College, Ann Chadwick Reid, called her an enigma, for her warm encouragement of students and colleagues, even as her work displayed deep psychological pain.

Deisher set out to portray war, exile and injustice combined with her own tormented response. “Indicator,” a retrospective of Deisher’s drawings and mixed-media fiber works currently on display at the Museum of Northwest Art in La Conner, features pieces created from 1982-2015.

In “We Are All in Exile” (1988) she uses “boats, ladders and planes as symbols of escaping. Fences/gates and steel doors are prisons both physical and mental.” A small portrait in the bottom corner shows Bergner offering his protection, and Deisher hesitating to accept.

She took acting lessons, but stage fright kept her off the stage. In place of performing, Deisher became her own model, drawing her image into bewildering compositions, like small dramas frozen in time.

Many works feature hangings. These arise from Deisher’s fascination with the Japanese post-Hiroshima, avant-garde art form, “Butoh,” in which performers suspended themselves from buildings, sometimes with fatal consequences. 

“Hearing 5 Black Angels” (1988) is a vivid display of her fears—her own self-portrait screams before a menacing gate barring entry to a corridor. Mummy ninjas hang in front of stage flats. To fear of acting and fear of falling is added a blaze of fire and a bound, partly flayed figure. Deisher writes, “I use open mouths, screaming, howling, crying [and] if one of my figures does not have an open mouth-hole it [means] death or the unconscious.”  

“She Whispered, Fear of Numbers” (1990) juxtaposes images of military mayhem with a self portrait before a guillotine. A dozen empty beds recede toward a screen with a silhouette of a man and woman embracing. A female figure floats over an outrigger canoe. Soldiers rough up civilians above a row of red body boxes.

Her 1994 mixed-media work, “The Dweller,” is an astonishing self-portrait. Deisher sits in a chair, partially nude, X-rayed, gagged, possibly electrocuted. Here are many of the concerns about about sexuality and the fragility of human anatomy that remained the themes of her works until her death in early 2017.

Another self-portrait from 2004, “Seeing Things Darkly,” finds Deisher mummified, in a casket, her body tapering to one leg, her pelvis and ribcage dimly X-rayed. At this time, Bergner was undergoing cancer treatment and her mother was suffering advanced dementia.

During the remaining years, much of her work incorporated fibers and mixed media, in which small self-portraits continued to surface.

Deisher’s work “Breathe” (2012) is a complex, three-dimensional piece of fabric and hand stitching with drawing on paper. Six feet tall, it took two years to complete. It’s in the shape of a tree—the “lungs” of our planet. Human lungs are on its surface, vulnerable and exposed, much like the artist herself.

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