Randi Fisher was a pioneer in abstract painting on glass. She was the only female member of the group of artists known as “1947 års män” (the men of 1947).
Randi Fisher was born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1920. Her mother, Eivor Fisher, was a textile artist who had trained at Tekniska skolan in Stockholm. Randi Fisher’s father was Ejnar Fisher, a Norwegian engineer and amateur entomologist. Her older sister, Else Fisher, was a choreographer, dancer and author.
Randi Fisher’s father died from tuberculosis when she was nine years old. She thus grew up with her sister and single mother, who provided for the family through her work as a teacher in textile arts, commercial needlework and drawing at Tekniska skolan. Their home was frequented by many of the mother’s fellow teachers and artists, including Barbro Nilsson, Ewa Billow, and her mother’s friend Emilia Fogelklou who became Randi Fisher’s godmother when she was baptised at the age of seven. In short, Randi Fisher’s childhood was enveloped by a rich network of socially aware, working women, who can be described as a core element of her upbringing. After two years at Tekniska skolan, Randi Fisher continued her studies at Kungliga Akademien för de fria konsterna (Konstakademin, the Swedish Royal Academy of Fine Arts) in Stockholm from 1939 to 1944.
In 1945 Randi Fisher married Olle Gill, an artist who had studied with her at Konstakademin. When their daughter Katarina was born in 1948 Randi Fisher and her husband decided to share the burden of parental responsibility equally: they both alternated their days of working with days taking care of their child. Randi Fisher did not want to risk becoming solely a mother and an “artist’s wife” with her brushes shelved away. There are other indications that Randi Fisher was a woman who was ahead of her time. In contrast to most of her female contemporaries in Stockholm, Randi always wore long trousers. This is evidenced by many surviving photographs of her, as well as drawings of her in Palettskrap, the student newspaper of Konstakademien.
Randi Fisher’s rare appearances in Swedish art historiography usually refer to her as one of the artists who displayed her work at the Ung konst exhibition, held at Stockholm’s Galleri Färg och Form in the spring of 1947. In addition to Randi Fisher, the exhibition comprised work by the painters Olle Bonniér, Olle Gill, Lage Lindell, Pierre Olofsson, Karl Axel Pehrson, Lennart Rodhe, Armand Rossander, Uno Vallman, as well as the sculptors Knut-Erik Lindberg and Liss Eriksson. Art historians have tended to refer to these artists as “1947 års män” (the men of 1947), thereby excluding Randi Fisher, the sole woman. This particular exhibition has been described as a milestone in Swedish modern art: many believe that it was here Swedish concrete art was born - high modernism had arrived in Sweden.
The label “1947 års män” is in itself a reference to a group of artists known as “1909 års män” (including Isaac Grünewald, amongst others). The use of “års män” was thus a way of referencing a specific moment in Swedish art history. The group name had not been chosen by the artists themselves but had been coined by art critics. Despite this, “1947 års män” continues to be used in most surveys of art history as though it were an established group name. The difficulty with the name primarily lies in the fact that it is unisex and thereby completely negates Randi Fisher’s participation in the exhibition.
During the 1940s and the early 1950s Randi Fisher painted in oils, tempera, gouache and watercolours. She also designed book covers for several Stockholm publishers, not least Albert Bonniers Förlag AB. Several of Maria Wine’s poetry collections, published by Bonniers in the 1950s, had covers designed by Randi Fisher. For other publishing houses Randi Fisher designed book covers for authors such as Ulla Isaksson. She created posters for plays her brother-in-law, Ingmar Bergman, staged at Helsingborgs Stadsteater, which he ran from 1944 to 1946. Randi Fisher also made several trips to Europe.
As a young artist Randi Fisher, just like many of her colleagues, worked to remedy the distance that had developed between art and the rest of society. She argued that art should be displayed at schools, post-offices, canteens, children’s theatres and apartment buildings in the suburbs. During the 1940s she created several murals and terrazzo flooring in the newly built suburbs of Västertorp and Hägersten. In 1950 she wrote about her experiences in a short article for Konstrevy. In 1951 she created enamel paintings, produced at Gustavsberg porcelain factory, to embellish a newspaper building built in Sundsvall for the social democratic daily Dagbladet Nya Samhället. That same year she completed a mural commissioned by Statens konstråd (Sweden’s Public Art Agency) for a school in Landskrona called Småskoleseminariet, as well as twelve murals for the newly built Hotell Malmen on Medborgarplatsen in Stockholm. The latter she created along with her husband at the time, Olle Gill. She also designed the circus-themed curtain in appliqué, which was sewn by Handarbetets Vänner (Friends of Handicraft) and subsequently hung in the children’s theatre in Hägersten Medborgarhus. In 1957, when Alf Sjöberg staged Carl Jonas Love Almqvist’s play Drottningens juvelsmycke at Dramaten (Royal Dramatic Theatre) in Stockholm, Randi Fisher and Lennart Mörk were responsible for the décor and costumes. She returned to Dramaten in 1965 in order to provide the stage design for En doft av blommor, directed by Ulf Palme.
During the renovation of Västerås cathedral, which dates from the thirteenth century, Konstnärernas Riksorganisation organised a competition in 1953 seeking proposals for three of the churches stained glass windows. Randi Fisher not only entered the competition but also won the panel’s approval. She initiated a comprehensive project beginning with De tre stegen which involved the use of a completely abstract form language. Given that she was working in an ecclesiastical context where representative imagery of Biblical figures still dominated, Randi Fisher’s approach was groundbreaking. She was the first Swedish artist to use abstract art in a church.
During her work in Västerås Randi Fisher’s colleague Lennart Rodhe advised her to approach the talented glass-blower Ralph Bergholtz, who ran Glasverkstan in Skäret in northwest Scania. The two collaborated on De tre Stegen, finished in 1960, as well as the glass paintings which she designed for Ängby church in Bromma. These were unveiled in 1969 and had been installed by her uncle, the architect Björn Hedvall. In 1956 Randi Fisher held a solo exhibition at Galleri Färg och Form in Stockholm. In 1959 she decided to completely forego painting in oils, gouache and watercolours. She spent the ensuing ten-year period until 1969, solely working on public art, mainly in glass but also with textiles. Her abstract glass paintings can be found in Voxtorp church, near Kalmar, in Östra hospital church in Malmö, in Norrtälje church, in Garda church on Gotland, and in the Tycho Brahe school in Helsingborg.
Randi Fisher divorced Olle Gill in 1960. A few years later she married Ralph Bergholtz and in 1963 they had a daughter together. They lived in a house next door to Glasverkstan where they worked on several comprehensive projects throughout the 1960s. In collaboration with the architect Johannes Olivegren from Gothenburg they produced glass paintings for about 25 churches nation-wide. None of the artists concerned was particularly religious, but as many of the newly built suburbs of the 1960s were not only being provided with shopping centres and subway stations, but also with churches, there was no shortage of work. Johannes Olivegren was a popular architect with regard to what was known as “småkyrkor” (small churches). Therefore, Randi Fisher’s glass paintings frequently ended up in ecclesiastical spaces even though both she and her husband Ralph Bergholtz often advocated for glass paintings to be hung in secular environments.
Randi Fisher’s marriage to Ralph Bergenholtz ended in 1977. Her youngest daughter moved to the USA at a young age. In 1978 Randi Fisher abandoned the artist’s life in order to seek a new way of living. During the first half of the 1980s she lived in Copenhagen where she active in several voluntary organisations, including Greenpeace, the Emmaus movement, and Amnesty International. She designed information sheets and participated in trips abroad. She also travelled on her own to Rome, Turkey, Nicaragua, Spain, India, Cuba, New Zealand and Australia.
From time to time she would collaborate with her daughter Katarina Gill, who had inherited Glasverkstan after Raphl Bergholtz’s death in 1988. Randi Fisher developed lung problems during her years of intensive travelling, and these eventually caused her death in 1997. Her disinterest in material things and her lifelong conviction that others should benefit from her creations is reflected in the few items she left behind: a backpack with simple personal belongings, the pieces of artwork which the family had, along with sketches and left-over work materials in Glasverkstan. As the end point of a rich life of artistry this is a telling image of determined behavioural consistency, political beliefs and the struggle for equality which Randi Fisher adopted from an early age and to which she remained true throughout her life.