LOUISE FISHMANby Jonathan Goodman
CHEIM & READ | SEPTEMBER 13 – OCTOBER 27, 2012
Louise Fishman’s new show substantiates, yet again, her importance as an Abstract Expressionist painter. Her current group of paintings, in which blue and, to a lesser extent, green predominate, have been inspired by her residency at the Emily Harvey Foundation in Venice. The blue of the sky and the blue-green of the canals clearly influenced this forceful painter, for whom Italian painting and, in particular, the great artist Titian remain touchstones of inspiration. The current suite of images is in full keeping with her earlier work exhibited over years: broad swathes of color slash and burn across the canvas, which is covered with thick and thin layers of paint, sometimes reaching the surface depth of a low relief. Clearly, Fishman is as ever committed to the pleasures and physical energies of action painting; her methods in the case of this show demonstrate a still-deepening commitment to painterly values (this at a time when the act of painting itself seems to be in question).
It is interesting to note just how cultured the sources of this new set of paintings are. In one case, “Calle Maria Callas” (2012), the painting responds to a street of the same name, situated near the renowned opera house Teatro La Fenice. The tall painting (64 by 34 inches) evokes Callas, the tempestuous diva (and a favorite singer of Fishman), in mostly vertical stripes of many colors—blue, brown, maroon, black, and turquoise—giving the impressions of strength and ascendance. In Venice, Fishman and her spouse Ingrid Nyeboe were able to explore the cultural greatness of the city freely; they visited churches and attended concerts, fully taking advantage of its resplendent high culture. According to catalogue essayist Judith Stein, the artist would take walks and lose her way, knowing that the entire city would be interesting in terms of historical culture (Fishman took photos to document her wanderings). Once she returned to New York, Fishman concentrated on making the paintings that have become the contents of the show at Cheim & Read, where they are beautifully installed.
The paintings are not only spirited but spiritual in nature. “Zero at the Bone” (2010) is a spectacular achievement, with two broad horizontal stripes of black and, beneath it, red, which nearly cut the canvas in half. Green is amply evident, and even though it is a color that tends to stand out on its own, in this case it has successfully been merged within the confines of the painting. As a classic, and perhaps classical, statement of Abstract Expression, “Zero at the Bone” reminds us that Fishman’s forcefulness revivifies a genre that many are tempted to see as antiquated, even moribund; a bit of bright blue on the lower right shines like a jewel and the red plank in the middle is luminescent, a quality achieved by adding black to the bar.
“Postscript” (2010), along with “Zero at the Bone” and “Violets for my Furs” (2010), is installed in the tall narrow space facing the entrance to the gallery; together the works feel like an altar. Another wonderfully strong painting, the center of “Postscript”is taken up by two columns—green on the left and blue on the right—their edges meeting in the middle of the painting, creating a seam that bisects the composition. On the edges are the broad brushstrokes—black and white and red—that Fishman is known for. These are powerful works of art, whose vitality stems from an appreciation of European culture merged with American spontaneity and force.
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Jonathan Goodman is a teacher and author specializing in Asian art, about which he has been writing for more than twenty years.