MILES MCENERY GALLERY | OCTOBER 11 – NOVEMBER 10, 2018
Beverly Fishman, Untitled (Digestive Problems, Sleepiness, Anxiety, Alcoholism), 2018, urethane paint on wood, 52 x 107 x 2 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Miles McEnery Gallery, New York, NY
Beverly Fishman’s high gloss surfaces have an inscrutable beauty. The shape and color of each work looks both estranging and familiar, and whilst the combinations of sometimes acidic or synthetic color entrance, they do not comfort. The reason, I suspect, is because not only are the multiple variations of geometric abstraction present but also the nagging solicitations of brand imaging. Fishman is of the generation of abstract painters who came to abstraction after it was cleansed of the conceit of purity. Abstraction had entered the realm of the senses by way of referential visions that embraced the world at large, free of dogma, or certainty, or for that matter a sure sense of subjectivity.
In so far as abstraction goes, John McLaughlin’s high gloss monoliths and Frank Stella’s geometric interlocking come to mind, together with the color experiments of Bauhaus artists Johannes Itten and Anni and Joseph Albers. But the complexity of the works, whilst formally inventive, also aims to seduce, and not like color field painting, more like signs that are appealing, perhaps that promise something reassuring: enjoy lasting pleasure over painful conundrum by taking what’s offered here! The kind of codification and commodification of drugs—packaged temporal emotion and wellbeing—in the powerful pharmaceutical industry are marketed in just such a visual way, and it is this that Fishman taps into.
The titling of Fishman’s works makes the connection directly with each form in a work give a name, for example Untitled (Digestive Problems, Sleepiness, Anxiety, Alcoholism) (2018), urethane on wood. The title reads like a diagnosis or the solution to a series of them. Measuring 52 by 107 inches and 2 inches forward from the wall this work has substantial presence, it is bright, precise and sharp edged. The four irregular perimeter shapes abut, one for each symptom of the title, each with concentric bands of color that read in an insistent rhythmic way. The surface is immaculate and unyielding in its reflective perfection—the result of using Urethane color, favored also in the automobile industry—pushing back as it beguiles. This is just one paradox of the works here: they combine the aesthetic pleasures of clear geometries and strong color with notions of medication and induced highs.
Beverly Fishman, Untitled (Weight Loss, Osteoporosis), 2018, Urethane paint on wood, 72 x 78 x 2 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Miles McEnery Gallery, New York, NY
Untitled (Weight Loss, Osteoporosis) (2018), also urethane on wood comprises two shapes, an elongated red oval above a grey blue lozenge shape. In its perfect and balanced outline and contrast of two discrete and contrasting shapes and colors the work recalls Ellsworth Kelly or Imi Knoebel, but only distantly as the tenor of the work is very different from the naturalistic (Kelly) or playful (Knoebel) in its ominous graphic clarity, all industrial artificiality and aggression reified as non threatening aesthetic treat. As in all of Fishman’s work there is a great deal of pleasure to be gotten from the contemplation of these finely milled curved relief pieces. Accompanying the wall works in the exhibition is a selection of collage works made with similar shapes of paper and vinyl. Untitled (2016) is a preparatory work for Untitled (Anxiety) (2017). It is here possible to see the thought process of choosing shapes and configurations, how the hand made and rough edged compare to the immaculate fabrication of the three dimensional large-scale finished work. The works on paper are of course art works in their own right whether intended as preparation for another larger work in other materials or not.
In a critique of cultural emptiness, a hall of mirrors and colors intended to distract and distort, Fishman manages to remain analytical in her abstractions, arranging skillfully her permutations of form and color, at turns astringent and sensual, to wake up rather than sedate both mind and body.
DAVID RHODES is a New York-based artist and writer, originally from Manchester, UK. He has published reviews in the Brooklyn Rail, Artforum, and Artcritical, among other publications.