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April 20 - June 1, 2002 at Manny Silverman Gallery, West Hollywood

by Marlena Donohue

Louise Fishman is a abstract expressionist. To say the words "second generation female abstract expressionist" in 2002 is to reference a sort of historical black hole, a zero gravity double whammy into which competent, mature artists can be lost. The pallor of this fact, exacerbated by decades of legitimate conceptual challenge to the whole notion of brush and linen, is tough to draw back from. So, it is hard and takes some viewer discipline and independence from ideas about what we think we should like to address this sort of work clearly and not from the reflex of prevailing taste.

This is not a new state of affairs, and Fishman has illustrious company; no more than seven or so years after the media/art conglomerate flooded our threshold with those male dominated muscular skeins of paint synonymous with America, second generation women abstract expressionists like Grace Hartigan and Joan Mitchell were never afforded the stature of their male peers. Helen Frankenthaler was the exception, perhaps because her touch, so light and airy, posed no direct competition to the dense, strong male mark. And her relationship with Robert Motherwell did not hurt either.

Anyway, the fact remains that there are artists like Fishman, dedicated and deliberate painters with pages of credentials, international exhibitions in museums that do not give shows on whim, education at the best Pennsylvania arts schools, and a deeply abiding maturity that we don't see that much. We consider such artists’ work perhaps too quickly when we encounter it--that awful "been there, done that" reflex that moves many to the hipper stuff before they actually look.

I would caution you to avoid that response in this show of mostly large-scale paintings by Fishman. Besides the deep schooling and critical notice already alluded to, there are a few works in the show like Sunrise Ruby that serve as reminders why we were so drawn to the New York School before it became a caricature: subtle calibration of color and light, gesture that creates with flat, careful layered mark, open oscillating space as convincingly as any Alberti dreamed of; a kind of analogue for space that suggests, as all good Ab Ex art can, unspecified areas that are interior, psychological, exterior, urban, quick, slow, calcareous like prehistory, and up-in-your-face like street tagging. Not all, or even half of the work here makes it to this point.

Look closely at Troubles Overcome Are Good To Tell. You will see passages that remind you of the atmospheric handling of Turner in his late and nearly abstract works, or the guy who saw Turner in London and went home to paint those stunning pools of hue, Monet. In this work, it looks as if Fishman lays down a dark, sooty ground of an amature onto which she adds with gradual, almost musical strokes that move toward the viewer, soft, evanecent layers of teal and olive.

Because the handling is adept you feel like you are looking into or through something infinite as this lyrical veneer of evaporating blues gives way to dark, tunneling spaces beneath. In Moving Shadows she reverses this technique, but with much less success: there is a complex and (when you can read it) lush matrix of underpainting onto wich Fishman adds dense, choked gestures made with a thick, loaded brush. These overpower the subtely of what is going on beneath them.

But when Fishman restrains the fireworks, doesn't rely on obvious paint pushing but stays subtle and controlled, she represents the best of the second generation, the best of tenacious female modernists, reminding us that women got undeservedly short shrift, and that art reflexes are not always the most insightful way to view art.

"The Sunrise Ruby," oil on
linen, 82 x 75 7/8", 1999

"Troubles Overcome are Good to
Tell," oil on linen, 76 x 82", 1997

"Casa Cenote," oil on
linen, 57 x 76", 2000.

"Muscle of Miracle," oil
on linen, 20 x 18", 1998.