|Louise Fishman in her studio, 2010. Photo: Deanna Sirlin.
the Ball and Running
A Studio Visit with Louise Fishman
Louise Fishman has graciously invited me to her Chelsea studio to speak
with me about her life as an artist. There are no finished works in her studio as Fishman has sent off her most recent work
to be shown in a solo exhibition at the Paule Anglim Gallery in San Francisco. On the studio walls are several paintings and
drawings Fishman has just started. As these are works in progress they do not have the depth and fissures found in Fishman’s
finished paintings and drawings. I find it fascinating to get a glimpse of the structure beneath the skin of the painting.
Seeing the skeleton that defines the form, you can’t help but anticipate the many layers of paint that will constitute
and become the finished work.
personal history informs her painting. She loved to play basketball in high school and is still an athletic
woman. The physicality
of her paintings testifies to this; one can imagine the edges of the canvas as the boundaries and free-throw
lines of a basketball
court. It is as if Fishman passes the ball to herself, takes it and runs to the other side of the court
to make another pass
and then jumps and shoots, all through her brush work, paint, and color. You sense the athleticism of her
work in the curves
and dribbles of paint and the physical rhythm mapped out in her brushstrokes. All Night and All Day,
a painting from
2008 in oil on canvas, is human sized (66 inches tall by 57 inches wide). The artist can reach from to top
and bottom; it
is a world where she is in control not only of the paint and structure but also of the scale. She can move
her arms, equipped
with a loaded brush, with finesse across or down or around with the space she created. Like any good athlete,
artist, she makes the whole thing look effortless, as if making the mark is simply a natural act.
work is also deeply informed by her engagement with feminism. As she puts it, “Feminism, the women's
movement, the lesbian
movement had a major effect on my work - and my life, of course. It radicalized me, and my work. Gave me
a sense of the uniqueness
of my position as a woman/lesbian artist. And lots of power!”
Fishman’s studio is her very private place. Sammy, a small black poodle, sleeps or watches
as Fishman works. This companion is a great witness to her working methods. He is fidelity itself, watching
and knowing. Sammy
is like a small shadow that is the artist’s other self, a sensitive alter-ego.
|Studio of Louise Fishman. Photo: Deanna Sirlin
Fishman’s finished paintings are built up in many layers to create depth of field. The 2010
have been shipped to California are mainly vertical compositions. The colors in these 2010 works have a
freshness of hue;
they radiate light that opens up the space of the paintings. Grays and whites are interspersed with deep
and stratified with small amounts of red and ochre. A wonderfully warm and brightly saturated mixture of
thalo blue and thalo
green meanders around the painted surfaces. The paint is slathered on, thick and luminous with many fractals
of color in every
passage. Each rectangle presses up against the next, sometimes overlapping but sometimes breaking like waves
on the shore,
strong and lively, with lavish bravado. Fishman’s titles, such as Zero At the Bone, are small
bits of provocative,
somewhat opaque prose that reveal only feeling.
Fishman’s paintings were not always so full of color and
air. In her early works, a cornucopia
of grays were embedded on a grid which gave the paintings their structure and presence. Describing her use
of the grid as
a compositional structure, she has said: “The grid comes and goes. It's there now in some ways, but
not as obvious.
The stricter grid continues to appear from time to time.” With Saga, a painting of 2010,
Fishman both returns
to and reinvents the grid: the layered paint pulls the structure apart slightly to make it something more.
|Louise Fishman, Saga, 2010. Oil on jute, 51 x 30
child of an artist mother and a father who was the son of a Talmudic scholar (Fishman is named for
she grew up reading and listening to the radio about the atrocities of the Holocaust. In 1988 she and a
friend, Valerie Furth,
a Holocaust survivor, traveled to concentration camps in Czechoslovakia and Poland, provoking feelings of
As Fishman left Auschwitz she encountered a pond where the victims’ ashes had settled. She impulsively
scooped up a
handful of the sludge, feeling that she must bring back whatever she could, save Jews in any form she could.
She brought the
ashes back to her studio and mixed them with beeswax and then into paint. Using the ashes in this way made
the paintings into
memorials and provided the artist with the catharsis she needed to keep working after the emotionally difficult
task of traveling
to the sites of the Holocaust.
does one continue
in the studio after feeling such pain and grief? Fishman meditates as a way of helping her to “slow
down, and notice
things in the painting process that need to change or deepen.” Finally, what is remarkable about her
paintings is that
you must slow down to really see them. They are about only painting, but painting that makes you feel the
presence of the
artist and her life.
is an artist and writer based in Atlanta, GA. She is Editor-in-Chief of TAS. Louise Fishman is represented by Cheim & Read in New York. Her work is on view at the Gallery Paule Anglim in San Francisco from 29 September - 23 October, 2010.