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by Deanna Sirlin
The Art Section

I am really delighted with this issue: we have three articles about three artists. I have written about visiting Louise Fishman, a painter I have admired since I became aware of her work in the mid-1980s (though she has been a highly respected painter for far longer). Washingtonian Candace Randall interviews Renee Stout, winner of this year’s Driskell prize. Established by the High Museum of Art in 2005, the David C. Driskell Prize is the first national award to honor and celebrate contributions to the field of African-American art and art history. Named after the renowned African-American artist and art scholar, the prize recognizes a scholar or artist whose work makes an original and important contribution to the field of African-American art or art history. Candace Randle is writing for us for the fist time, and I would like to welcome her aboard.

And I want to thank Anna Leung for writing from London about the Henry Moore exhibition that was at the Tate Britain. In addition to thanking Anna, however, I also need to mention gallerist Skot Foreman who suggested I take another look at this modern master. For many, Henry Moore represents corporate art: the huge sculpture placed outside the big building to signify wealth and good taste. Anna’s closer scrutiny, occasioned by the exhibition, reveals an artist whose work passed through a number of phases over the course of a long career that coincided with some of the most important developments in 20th century art. He made some sculptures whose physical presence, emotion, and verve transcend the sites they grace and most certainly deserve fresh consideration. 

Thank you very much,


Photos above, clockwise from upper left: Studio of Louise Fishman, Photo: Deanna Sirlin. Renee Stout, Ogun Power Object #1 (Reactor), 2007 - 2010, mixed media. Henry Moore, Mask, 1929. Tate © Reproduced by permission of the Henry Moore Foundation. Transferred from the Victoria & Albert Museum 1983. 


Deanna Sirlin is an artist and writer based in Atlanta, GA. She is Editor-in-Chief of TAS.

Louise Fishman in her studio, 2010. Photo: Deanna Sirlin.

Taking the Ball and Running

A Studio Visit with Louise Fishman

by Deanna Sirlin

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.

Fishman’s 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, performer, or artist, she makes the whole thing look effortless, as if making the mark is simply a natural act.

Fishman’s 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 paintings that 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 dark ultramarines 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

The child of an artist mother and a father who was the son of a Talmudic scholar (Fishman is named for her grandfather), 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 terrible grief. 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.

How 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.


Deanna Sirlin 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.

Renee Stout. Photo Courtesy of Renée Stout and Hemphill Fine Arts.

Beyond the Artistic Veil:

An Interview with Renee Stout

By Candace Randle

Renee Stout is one of Washington, DC’s most recognizable artists. Taking some of life’s most personal and enduring moments, Stout creates pieces that are impossible to ignore. Her work has been featured at multiple venues across the country. Although she has been crafting her skill since early childhood, Renee considers herself an artist who is still evolving. Earlier this year, the High Museum of Art, based in Atlanta, named her the 2010 recipient of the prestigious David C. Driskell Prize, an annual award that recognizes a scholar or artist who, through their work, makes an original and significant impact in the field of African American art or art history. As she prepared for her latest exhibit featured through October 30, 2010 at the Hemphill Gallery of Fine Arts in Washington, DC, she graciously took time to discuss first-hand her work, her life as a DC artist, and her inspirations.

The Art Section: When did your career as an artist begin? What, in your opinion, was the tipping point or the defining moment?

Renee Stout: My mother had a younger brother who was a self-taught artist and she grew up watching him draw and paint on any surface he could get his hands on, so when she saw me scribbling (at the age of three) on the toes of my Buster Brown Mary Jane’s, she figured she’d better start purchasing plenty of art supplies. That was the beginning.

What, in your opinion, was the defining moment of your career?

The tipping point in my professional career came in 1990, a few years after I had moved to Washington, DC from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where I was raised. I had been working in the after-school program of a Montessori school and doing my art in the evenings, on the weekends and in the summer when school was out, but hadn’t really been showing anywhere around the city. One day a good friend suggested that I let him show slides of my work to a woman who ran a very nice gallery that used to be downtown on 7th Street, NW until it closed several years back. Back then, I was very shy about approaching galleries and would have never had the nerve to walk into that gallery with slides in-hand, but I agreed to let him take them in for me. Within a few days Barbara Kornblatt, the owner of the gallery, was sitting in my apartment/studio and we were discussing my joining her gallery.


Left to Right: Journal Entry #5, ed. 13, 2009, plate: 11 3/4” x 7 7/8” / paper: 19 3/4” x 15”, aquatint, etching. Root Chart #3, ed. 13, 2009, plate: 12” x 7 7/8” / paper: 19 3/4” x 15”, aquatint etching and mezzotint. Photo Courtesy of Renee Stout and Hemphill Fine Arts.

As an artist, what inspires you?

When I was just starting out, I was inspired by the work of artists I had been exposed to through museums or art history books. I use to love the work of artists like Joseph Cornell, Betye Saar and Edward Kienholtz. However, since then, I have lived a lot of life and I now find that I’m inspired by my own personal experience.

How would you describe your artwork? Is there a continuing theme?

Yes, there is a continuing theme. Back in my early thirties, in order to work through my shyness (insecurity, really) about openly expressing my true feelings in my work, I developed an alter ego as a vehicle to allow me to freely express all that I was thinking and feeling. Through my work, I would tell stories about the alter ego’s adventures. She’s a woman who can “work roots” and interpret people’s dreams, and the art that I made represented objects she would use or interiors she inhabited. I wanted to make the viewers at my shows feel like voyeurs who were peeping in on the personal life of this mysterious woman. As I matured, I found that I no longer needed the alter-ego to express my personal thoughts, but I had become attached to being able to tell an ongoing, ever-evolving story though the alter ego and the rich characters she would interact with, so I continued to do so. All of my narrative artworks had their seeds in real-life stuff, but I was also free to embellish that reality if I wanted to. Part of me has always wanted to be a writer.

Where can an art enthusiasts view your work?

At any given time Hemphill Fine Arts has pieces of mine that can be viewed by appointment. They also have a website that features works by the entire roster of artists (including me) that they represent. But it’s also as easy as putting my name into Google Images and lots of works I’ve done over the years will pop up.

Renee Stout, Truth-Telling Kit, 2008. Photo Courtesy of Renee Stout and Hemphill Fine Arts

When people think of art, they mostly think of New York. What makes Washington, DC a city for artists?

I love New York and its energy and go there as often as I can. However, I refuse to buy into the idea that New York is the only place to make art and be a legitimate artist. Washington, DC is a very metropolitan city with its own cultural identity and energy that artists feed on and get inspired by. Compared to New York, DC is much more manageable to function in as an artist economically. However, I have to tell it like it is and say that DC could do much more to show support for its artists and the galleries and alternative spaces that show their work. We just keep hoping that the powers that be (from the Mayor to the developers) in this city will figure it out and become more supportive of the city’s cultural energy.

What, to date, has been your greatest artistic achievement?

I think that my greatest achievement has been to make a living these past 20 years doing what I love. Being a self-employed artist has been both rewarding and challenging, especially in these difficult times. However, I get to see what I’m made of everyday. As an artist, I like to challenge myself constantly, because I want my work to continue to grow and evolve.


A native Arkansan, Candace L. Randle is the deputy director of communications and public affairs for The RLJ Companies and is the managing editor of PowerPlay Magazine. She currently resides in Washington, DC.

Renee Stout's exhibition The House of Chance and Mischief is at Hemphill Fine Arts in Washington, DC from September 11 - October 30, 2010.

The following article was originally written for PowerPlay Magazine and has been printed with expressed permission and consent from its publisher.

Henry Moore. Photo: Jane Bown.

Henry Moore

At Tate Britain

by Anna Leung

Avant-gardist status and public recognition seldom go hand in hand, the one seeming to disqualify the other. By the 1960’s Henry Moore definitely seemed passé for many of the new generation of British sculptors who were searching for a new type of sculpture no longer derived from the human body and the real world. Moore’s sculptures were too solid, too stable. During the 1950s his figurescame to stand for the conscience of the nation, national emblems that embodied classical humanistic values of suffering and endurance, stoicism and survival. In the immediate post war years this had reflected the spirit of the nation, for Britain unlike France and Germany had not known defeat despite years of protracted fighting, sacrifice and deprivation. Whereas in the years before the outbreak of World War II Moore was not known or admired by the general public but earned the respect and admiration of his fellow avant-garde artists, by the end of the war he was beginning to become a public figure whose archetypal sculptures represented not just historical continuity but elements of anti-modernity and a traditional pastoral quality that reinforced our cultural isolation in Europe. Increasingly, this high public profile which legitimised his practice contradicted the thrust of modernism’s avant-gardist rhetoric which by definition stood for innovative opposition to the entrenched establishment.  This exhibition purports to reintegrate Moore within the ranks of the avant-garde, to radicalise him by revealing the darker side of his imagination and in this way to rescue him from a secure but marginalised position within modern critical thinking. Placing more emphasis on his drawings plays an important part in this reinvention of Moore which is all the more intriguing since his war time drawings have often been used as evidence of his turning his back on the avant-garde and modernism. 

Situated mid way in the exhibition between “modernism” and the “post war” is a “war time” room dedicated to Moore’s drawings.  The decision to place these drawings at the centre of the exhibition is significant to both Moore’s artistic practice and his public persona.  For the Shelter Drawings of 1940 represent a pivotal point in Moore’s career marking the end of his abstract period and the beginning of a reengagement with figuration, albeit a modernist version of it. The origins of the Shelter Drawings are not clear. According to Moore mythology he did not often make use of the London underground, but when forced to do so some days into the Blitzkrieg, was amazed by the sight of Londoners asleep on the platform taking shelter there. This series of drawings, which also represents his contribution as an Official War Artist, were at first interpreted as Moore’s rejection of modernism and his turning to a much more legible form of realism accessible to the ordinary members of the public. But despite the evidence seemingly vouchsafed by Lee Miller’s photograph of Moore sketching in the Underground, which may well have been a re-enactment, whether he sketched from life, or as is also likely, adapted his drawings from press cuttings, is beside the point. Rather, Moore recognised in these sleeping bodies his own reclining figures and he admits as much, remarking that he saw “hundreds of Henry Moore Reclining Figures stretched along the platforms.” The technique of white wax crayon covered with washes of ink and watercolour lends itself to this atmosphere of darkness, drama and menace. For there is a distinctly dream-like quality to these drawings of recumbent bodies which, cocooned or mummified, seem suspended between life and death. It is this surrealist aspect that is highlighted by the curators who associate the Shelter Drawings  with the Freudian notion of the uncanny (Unheimlichkeit); I’ll come back to this concept when considering the “war time” section.  However, it is pretty certain that the Londoners sheltering there did not recognise themselves in these drawings and in no way do they suggest the ordinary untidiness and chaotic activity that must have accompanied surviving in these cramped conditions. The basic brief of this exhibition is that the darker side had always been there and was either a part of Moore’s own psyche going back to his relationship with his mother or related to his experience in World War I when he was gassed, hospitalised and never sent back to fight on the front. Both life experiences, the exhibition suggests, contributed to a hidden aspect of a mature personality normally seen as benign.

What comes over as Tate’s main objective is a re-appraisal of Moore. This begins appropriately in two galleries devoted to “world culture” with his discovery of primitive artefacts that coincided with the enthusiasm for direct carving that, by the interwar years, was becoming de rigueur for young sculptors. Brancusi spearheaded the movement by declaring that “direct cutting is the true road to sculpture.”  Sculptors in the 20’s and 30’s attached such importance to the notion of truth to materials, especially to stone, that together with direct carving it constituted a new orthodoxy. Part of a wider cultural rejection of both modernity and classicism, direct carving, it was argued, was more honest and more authentic than sculptural practices like Rodin’s that were based on clay modelling. This was because direct carving or cutting dispensed with mediators, assistants who created bronze casts from the original clay or plaster model or used pointing techniques to create scaled-up versions of the original. What were lost in these mechanised processes were the sculptor’s authorial control and artistic quality. The revolutionary and avant-gardist imperative was to restore through direct carving a relationship between head and hand, between the artwork as concept and as finished product. Moore had to wait till his student days at the Royal College of Art to study carving, since up till then it was still regarded as manual labour betokening the craftsman and not the artist. Carving into stone meant that a certain refinement tended to be lost but the directness and simplicity that was gained was in accordance with a new understanding of primitive artefacts that eschewed naturalistic realism for a deeper symbolic or expressive language. It was this that artists intent on introducing a new authenticity and truthfulness in their artistic practice, were searching for.


Henry Moore, Reclining Figure, 1951. 
Tate © Reproduced by permission of the Henry Moore Foundation Photo: Tate Photography. 

As a student, Moore was going down a well-trodden path. Picasso, Derain, Brancusi and Kirchner had all studied and been inspired by “primitive” artefacts and masks, in most cases from Africa. Some of Moore’s sketches from his regular visits to the British Museum refer to Negro sculpture, which in Britain had already been admired by Roger Fry and Jacob Epstein for its simplification, directness, intensity of expression and abstract rendering of the human body, but from the mid twenties it was Pre-Columbian art that made the strongest impression on Moore for its “stoniness,” formal richness and three-dimensional qualities. These qualities are apparent in his marble Snake (1924) and in the two Reclining Figures, one carved from brown Horton stone in 1929, the other carved in the following year from green Horton stone. The model for both was the Mexican figure of Chac-Mool, the Rain God, but Moore transformed male into female and invested the nude form with connotations of landscape, a procedure that would acquire great significance for him over the years. It is however in Mother and Child of 1924 that we can see the formal solidity of Mexican art best translated into his idiom. It is also from Pre-Columbian art that Moore took the idea of inserting stone eyes into his torso of young girls with clasped hands. It is in these pieces that we begin to see Moore accentuating the holes between arm and torso that anticipate his preoccupation with the purely formal quality of holes in terms of positive and negative volumes in later abstract and figurative carvings.  

The theme of mother and child is all the more important to an understanding of Moore’s subsequent development to the extent that it transmogrifies into a period of semi abstract sculptures inspired by Surrealism, for example the hybrid form, half human, half thing in his Composition (1931). The curatorial choice in this section suggests that earlier mother and child sculptures do not exactly conform to the comfortably Madonna-like rendering of the genre that characterises Moore’s post-war family groups in the fifties; there is often evidence of ambiguity if not outright conflict in the relationship which could be construed as Kleinian rather than Freudian. Maternity, however, was a theme shared by many artists in this period. That Moore made it his own is all the more striking in that it was only in the seventeenth year of his marriage to Irina that a daughter Mary, named incidentally after his mother, was born. Underlining the importance this theme had for Moore is a collage put together in 1929-30 by Irina from his drawings of mothers and babies which perhaps imply that this leitmotif emerged from a deeper, more private part of his psyche that was rooted in his own relationship with his mother. Other sketches, that virtually exclude the mother leaving only the child in relation to the breast, prefigure Moore’s move to biomorphic abstraction and his reorientation towards Surrealism that prompted a change in his drawing practice from figure studies to what he called “transformation drawings” based on natural objects such as stones, shells, bones and pebbles. These objects acted as catalysts for his imagination, causing him to be described as “a constructor of images between the conscious and the unconscious.”  By working through these transformations, Moore developed a synthesis between abstraction and Surrealism - for he refused to take sides in this aesthetic conflict - all the while still focusing on the universality of the human form.

Though surrealist in terms of their derivation as “objets trouvés,” there is little of Breton’s menace in these pieces and it is extremely unlikely that Moore shared Breton’s belief that real political change was dependent on the liberation of the unconscious. Composition (1931), which in most respects looks back to Arp, probably represents Moore at his closest to Surrealism as he attempted to embody the surrealist notion of “continual movement.” It was at this point that his interest in direct carving waned and he returned to modelling, which was more opened-ended as a technique. Moore insisted on the quality of the initial idea and on the mind and vision of the artist or sculptor and this same impartiality ruled in terms of his non-partisanship between abstraction and realism. Though hardly a political activist, Moore signed the first “British Surrealist Manifesto” in 1935 and in 1936 helped organise the International Surrealist Exhibition held in London.  In the same year, he took part in the “First British Artists Congress for Peace, for Democracy, for Cultural Progress,” and signed a declaration in support of Spain; in 1938, he took part in a demonstration in Hyde Park in support of the Spanish people. There was no doubt that war was looming on the horizon. 

It was from this period in the 1930’s that Moore began to work on a series of multi-part reclining figures such as his Four Piece Composition: Reclining Figure (1934). Formally, the main influences he was working through were Picasso’s Dinard paintings and Giacometti’s table top sculptures, with their strong emphasis on horizontality. The curators of the Tate show would have us interpret this as “an iconography of broken, abject bodies.” But as with other of Moore’s incursions into surrealist territory, there is a minimum residue of surrealist threat hanging over the piece which could just as well represent one of Moore’s formal attempts to synthesise abstraction and Surrealism. For the main impact of the sculpture is that it allows each piece to exist as a separate entity while still conveying an overall apperception of unity. Similarly, in Two Forms of the same year; we intuit a sense of belonging. For though physically separate the two forms respond to each other and seem psychologically joined.  


Henry Moore, Drawing, 1935.
Tate © Reproduced by permission of the Henry Moore Foundation Photo: Tate Photography. 

Moore’s drawings in the “war time” room are subjected to a similar curatorial interpretation. The Freudian concept of the “uncanny” denotes the intrusion of the unfamiliar and of the unknown into the realm of the familiar and known, thus creating an ambiguous zone between dream and waking and life and death. Significantly Freud’s essay on the uncanny was written in 1919 very much in the shadow of World War I.  It is therefore quite feasible that the spectacle of Londoners sheltering in the tunnels of the underground could have provoked memories of Moore’s own traumatic experiences of trench warfare, revealing aspects of himself not normally encountered even in his most surrealist phase. It is then not surprising that this series of drawings conveys a special sense of pathos and a certain dread associated with the uncanny. These drawings are unlike Moore’s sketches in that they are not preparatory drawings for future sculptures but represent art works in their own right. For obvious reasons, it was difficult if not impossible to continue creating sculptures during the war. And yet while revealing private aspects of Moore’s character they also prefigure his return to a more classicising form of figuration, especially in the emphasis on drapery,  that would characterise his sculptural practice in the fifties when the menace of the Cold War and the threat of atomic extermination was very deeply felt. Moore was after all one of the co-founders of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. But equally viable is a view of these recumbent bodies as landscapes, a sculptural conceit in which figure and landscape come to represent a harmonic organic whole that runs like a leitmotif throughout Moore’s long career.

The idea of the warrior that emerges in the early fifties is unique in Moore’s oeuvre; this was the first time he worked on the single male figure.  Its origins in a pebble picked up on the seashore that suggested an amputated leg is characteristic of Moore’s work procedures. The Fallen Warrior and Warrior with Shield  were first constructed using an armature and plaster; the plaster sets like stone and can be carved or cut, then cast in bronze. The use of bronze reconnected Moore with the art of classical Greece. He had travelled to Greece in 1951 and was impressed and moved by the Acropolis and the Parthenon frieze which he already knew from the British Museum. His warriors, like those on the Parthenon, are vulnerable and mutilated figures though they retain an element of heroic defiance. Looking back, these figures convey the strain and suffering undergone during the war years but equally reflect the tenseness and anxiety of the Cold War years when total destruction was thought to be imminent. It is surely the same sense of anxiety that makes his Reclining Figure of 1951, commissioned for the Festival of Britain, look up and interrogate the skies. By this time, space as an interplay of mass and void had become totally integral to his vision, as can be seen in his elmwood reclining figures, and Moore was beginning to receive international acclaim.

It is, I think, in the last room “elm” that the curatorial agenda particularly  fails to impress. What does impress, and completely, is the pure poetry of these six elmwood reclining figures which, punctuating his whole career, date from the mid thirties and continue into the eighties. In them we can sense Moore’s ability to marry landscape and figure and his fundamentally Romantic belief in the indivisibility of man and nature. But more than that, they show his real joy in handling wood and in following the grain of the wood that suggests the undulations of the female figure. There are, I’ll wager, few viewers who will remain unimpressed or untouched by what remains an enduring ethic of humanism which despite seeming a tad provincial nevertheless speaks to us of our fragile yet enduring relationship with the world around us. Perhaps this humanist perspective is Moore’s legacy to contemporary British sculptors such as Richard Long and Anthony Gormley, who have made their own.

© Anna Leung 2010


Henry Moore, Four-Piece Composition: Reclining Figure, 1934.
Tate © Reproduced by permission of the Henry Moore Foundation Photo: Tate Photography. 


Anna Leung is a London-based artist and educator now semi-retired from teaching at Birkbeck College but taking occasional informal groups to current art exhibitions.

The exhibition Henry Moore was at the Tate Britain in London from 24 February - 8 August, 2010.