Louise Fishman

MacDowell Series #10, 1980. Oil on canvas, 8 x 10

LOUISE FISHMAN: The MacDowell Series 

Taut in geometric tension, Louise Fishman's previous work had been supported by such a battery of structure that she had to invent an outlet for her highly complex and non-rational gesture to strike the balance. Scuffled shadows, occurring through the thoughtful adjustment of the geometric structure, carried this gesture. Like many of her contemporaries, Fishman packed the one-two punch: one, she got your attention through the dynamics of structure; two, she absorbed you with the whispers of informal gesture. While these two levels cooperate as two halves, they are nonetheless distinct. It was the second half that first drew me in to Louise Fishman's paintings. Last summer Fishman spent five weeks at the Macdowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire.

During this period she painted a series of small canvases which seemed to represent a significant departure from the earlier work. In point of fact, they are very different. This recent work marks what might be a stage not unlike the metamorphosis of a caterpillar. Fishman's new paintings are as limber and as radiant as the butterfly.

The obvious difference is the introduction of curves. These replace most of the rigid post and beam geometry that was the foundation of the previous work. In fact, seven of the ten canvases have barely a straight edge among them; although, curiously, the curves retain a fractured straight edge quality. Instead the compositions are supported by a structure as complex and unexpainable as the paintings themselves. This immediately brings up what is probably the most important result of the new work. Because the unique structure is determined singularly by the unconscious forces which also determine the spirit and direction of the individual paintings, these works touch on a deeper, more singular experience, and as a result, are more whole.

The one quality which carries over to this new work is the muddying that the palette knife brings. The scraping and scuffling of this tool, Fishman's primary paint applicator, create the obscure marking which tell her story. What grew out of the adjustment of edges early on evolved into Fishman's most identifiable stylistic characteristic. Its other function, of course, is to keep the paint from being too clean and easy, but out of this function came a method to set loose the painter's non- rational and unconscious expression.

In the recent work Fishman paints her edges and shape contours even more emphatically than before. Because these shapes are no longer restricted by some of the arbitrary demands of geometry, they absorb more of the non-rational gesture of the mark-making, and become more committed and defined as a result. The balance, therefore, has shifted somewhat, since the mark-making no longer serves to soften the geometry. It still keeps the paint from being too clean, but it has gained some freedom, freshness, and juice.

In a painting such as #7, the effects of a studio in the New Hampshire woods are quite apparent, especially if one can see the connection between the earlier work and the Lower West Side. #7 is not only a compendium of curves but also a beacon of forest light, far from the cool opacity of concrete. Greens, yellows, and browns are fractured by white, but no black. The paint has a joy and abandon that it hasn't had before. There is some digging down to buried colors, but this always stays loose and alive. The marks especially carry the spirit of the butterfly form and color. As the paint twists and turns in every direction, its color brilliant transparencies to impenetrable depths, from rich cake frosting to sleepy mud, and swift shines to rough flats.

These small canvases come in cereal box dimensions: regular, large and family size. They also tend to pair: #7 with #3, #5 with #9, #6 with #8, and #10 with #1. Color and composition determine these associations, but what they share in those two respects takes us nowhere when it comes to the actual experience. Then each one is alone and can only be dealt with like some undiscovered species. There really are no keys to these paintings, just the paintings themselves. They sparkle with an intensity and identity that can barely be written around, much less written, and that is the best thing that could be said about any painting.

Copyright:Addison Parks,1980
Reprinted courtesy of ARTS Magazine