Sick Fisher, born Joseph Nicholas Fisher, was born in 1985 in Weymouth, Massachusetts, but was raised in Sebastian, Florida. After graduating from The Florida State University in 2008, Fisher moved to Chicago in 2009 to continue his work as an artist. Fisher works in large scale murals as well as on a variety of smaller surfaces that include canvas, paper, wood, plastic, metal, brick, and glass. Based in Humboldt Park, most of Sick Fisher’s work can be seen on California Ave as well as up and down Milwaukee Ave in Logan Square. Other neighborhoods with Fisher’s public work are Rogers Park, Lakeview, Evanston, Downtown, and West Loop. In addition to his commercial endeavors, Fisher’s true passion is upgrading neglected spaces such as abandoned storefronts and walls with site-specific murals or designs.
After graduating in 2008, I kicked around Tallahassee for about 6 months. I had been in a relationship though most of my stay at FSU, so when I graduated and she did not, I was unsure of my next move. I had been working at Fat Sandwich as a delivery driver and using their walls as my personal gallery of sorts. Working so close to Railroad Square and the First Friday art crawls really helped me stay motivated. By being allowed to play ‘art director’ of the sandwich show, I was able to use my skills in a comfortable, non-competitive environment; I believe it is this short but very important phase of post graduation that laid the ground work for my future in the arts.
When my relationship ended, I no longer felt tethered to Tallahassee and decided (almost impetuously) that I would move to Chicago. Chicago made a lot of sense as both of my sisters and an uncle lived there, so I was allowed to couch surf a few months while I got on my feet. I scoured the internet and other classifieds for art jobs and unsurprisingly, found very little opportunity. I was up for a position at a large downtown gallery to be an ‘art handler’ but did not get the job (I think I put too much emphasis on my own art in the interview). I ended up getting a minimum wage job at a place called Soup Box. We sold soup and called ourselves ‘ladle jockeys.’ I worked there for over a year before it became tedious and I jumped ship for another job at a cafe called The Bourgeois Pig. Another few years flew by until I decided it was time to focus full-time on my painting. All through these first 5 years, I continued to paint, part, network, and just live my life. Graduating in 2008, the basin of America’s most recent economic depression, was actually a blessing in disguise. I had no where to go but up. I was in the same boat as my high school friends who went into more stable fields, no one was getting jobs. So I had to get creative. And what better occupation to be in when your survival is contingent on creativity?
Another significant role in my career as an artist was my living arrangement from 2010-2012. By chance, I ended up living with a large group of musicians/artists in an old south side warehouse that used to be a piano factory. It was in a distant neighborhood that most of my friends consider dangerous(it’s Chicago, it’s all dangerous), and the building owner turned a blind eye to all the shows and shenanigans that our group was getting into. The three-floor bohemian oasis at 2016 S Kedzie is where I was allowed to act upon any and every creative urge that crossed my mind. The enormity of the warehouse combined with the general ethos of its inhabitants helped to sharpen my skills as an artist.
I believe my art is a reflection of how I perceive my environment, so it is important to make sure I try to understand my environment. Chicago has a reputation for being very segregated so if you stay in only one neighborhood, there is very little chance you will be able to get a good picture of this city. By living in the warehouse so far away and biking across many neighborhoods to get to work, I got to exist in many different Chicago’s. Had I not lived at Treasure Town (the third floor was Mortville, second Treasure Town, first Cases Donde), I would likely still be running in place, banging my head against a wall trying to figure out how to get my work seen in a city I didn’t understand or appreciate.
In 2014, I attempted to work full time as an artist but I ended up feeling it would be better for my painting to have a part time job that put less reliance on making rent with my art. This is where things started to heat up. After we all got evicted from Treasure Town, I ended up in Humboldt Park where I found a job next to my apartment at the diner, Flying Saucer. Much like Fat Sandwich, they allowed me to display my work there. The small, independently owned and operated diner became a second home and my co-workers became true friends. Having spent the last few years bouncing all over Chicago, I was now given the opportunity to put down roots. I was now on a lease in an apartment I wanted to be in and working a job I liked. So I began making my presence felt in the immediate are. By point, I had a few public works on my friends storefronts and various other restaurants but it was when I set up shop in Humboldt that I started to feel the traction. The flower shop, the abandoned hot dog stand, the pierogi place, the bookstore, the vintage shop, the community garden, my neighbor’s van, and even Flying Saucer all got painted that year. Each project got me more projects. After that year, I was taken off the schedule at Flying Saucer. I was scared and slightly hurt at first, feeling like I had somehow let my friends down by asking off work too much for other projects. In reality, they had acted in my best interests just as much as their own. By replacing me as the Thursday server, I was weened off my reliance on a day job and pushed to make my art my occupation. Now, here we are.
I suppose the most valuable lesson I learned while at FSU is: You get out what you put in. Art school is a funny concept in that there is most definitely value in learning new techniques and art history, having access to equipment and resources, and being surrounded by a community of similar/opposing ideas… but the soul of your art can’t be taught. It is a culmination of your life’s experiences manifested into a tangible item, then run through the perspective of the viewer’s own life experiences. That being said, I feel FSU gave me the room I needed to grow, but also was closed enough to keep me from going off the rails. It was fertile soil.
A life of art does not necessarily mean finding a job in the arts. I think that the standard story line fed to us from an early age that you go to college after high school then get a job in your field is intimidating, confusing, and misleading. Perhaps this is a solid approach for someone in finance, medicine, law, etc, but it seems like an unusually rigid schedule for an artist. My advice is to find a job that you don’t hate that pays the bills, but with people you love. Then make art on your own time. Allow your work to exist without worrying about how much it could sell for. I believe that if the work is genuine, it can’t be kept under a rock forever. Humans will never tire of art. Just keep working.
Like most advice, this is an over-simplification. Other very important factors are exposure, self-promotion, confidence, and control of your production. It also helps to take it easy on the drugs and alcohol despite the romanticism of being a hard-living, starving artist. Everything in moderation. Oh, and get regular sleep. My dad once told me his recipe for becoming a professional in any field: “10 years or 10,000 hours, whichever comes first.”