Louise Fishman

1939 – 2021

New York-based Louise Fishman was an abstract artist who re-appropriated the Abstract Expressionism of male artists and repositioned it for a different era and gender. Fishman identified as a feminist lesbian and did her part so that abstract expressionism can be “as an appropriate language for me as a queer . . . a language appropriate to being separate.”

Fishman used scrapers and trowels to make grid-based geometric paintings; “Angry” paintings; paintings on Jewish identity and Holocaust remembrance; and paintings inspired by light, water, and nature. These works are monumental and energetic painted with dense colors and rich textures.

Fishman attended the Philadelphia College of Art from 1956-1957; the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1958;  and the Tyler School of Fine Arts in Elkins, Pennsylvania where she received her B.F.A. and B.S. in 1963. In 1965, she received her M.F.A. from the University of Illinois, Champaign, Illinois. 

In the 1960s, Fishman was making grid-based work and was active in the feminist movement. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, she temporarily abandoned painting for making sculptural works that were feminine in nature. 

When her work was included in the 1973 Whitney Biennial, she returned to painting in her seminal 1973 series “The Angry Paintings,” where she showed female rage. Slashing acrylic strokes in her works on paper, she painted more than 20 artists and some prominent women, including Marilyn Monroe, in 30 works, and she painted the word ‘angry’ over each woman’s name. 

During the latter part of the 1970s her abstract works were linked with Pattern painting. In the early 1980s, elements of Neo-Expressionism were seen in large-scale works such as her 1985 “Grand Slam” and 1986 “Cinnabar and Malachite.”

In 1988, Fishman visited concentration camps at Auschwitz and Terezim and visited Warsaw, Prague, and Budapest.  These visits had a dramatic impact on her vision. She used cremated human remains from Auschwitz and mixed them with beeswax for her “Remembrance and Renewal” series. She built up layers with thin washes, and one could consider these paintings to be reliquary objects.

In the early 1990s Fishman returned to the grid format as in her 1991 “Sipapu and 1992 “Shadows and Traces” while later paintings consisted of wide, deliberate clashes of color as in her 2011 “The Mirror of Ink” with the color black buttressed by areas of blue and deep red.

In 1992, after a fire destroyed her studio and she lost all her artwork, Fishman turned to making the accordion-style leporello books. She slowly rebuilt herself by filling up the pages of these little books with literary and artistic associations. Their interiors unfolded to reveal intricate paintings that either embraced the sequential images or covered the pages to make a continuous whole.

In October 2019, Fishman had a solo show in Los Angeles. Her 2018 painting “Frigg” – unlike most of the paintings in the show – was largely black and white monochrome with touches of blue, green, and yellow. Black paint rushed across the canvas in wide horizontal sweeps and two central diagonals. Some parts looked scraped so that the canvas could be seen. Delicate white ridges rose where a patterned object had been pressed into the paint and then lifted off. The painting looked slightly blurred as if it had been filmed from a passing car.  

Fishman received numerous awards including three National Endowment for the Arts Grants, a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship, among others.

Her work is in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Washington D.C.’s National Museum of Women in the Arts, Atlanta’s High Museum of Art, New York’s Jewish Museum, Art Institute of Chicago, Denver Art Museum, and Whitney Museum of American Art, among others. 

More here.

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