New York

Louise Fishman

Nancy Hoffman Gallery

Can there be two painters more diametrically opposed than Brad Davis and Louise Fishman? Hardly. Fishman is a traditional oil-on-canvas nonrepresentational painter for whom the newfangled notions of acrylic paint and decorativeness are anathema. What’s astonishing about her work is that it could have been made any time in the last 25 years and is consequently the same kind of fashion constant as the wing-tip shoe.

Given the enormous chasm between Davis and Fishman, I don’t find it at all incongruous to find myself responding warmly to both. Fishman is the more painterly of the two, but both have that gestural juice that makes me feel at home. Davis’ almost psychedelic color makes Fishman’s paintings look drab by contrast, but she gets a lot of mileage by separating her brilliant reds and blues with intervals of black and white. The general structure of her painting is rectangular shapes in apposition; they read as stumbling blocks or stepping stones to the rest of the canvas, depending on your orientation.

The opposing or interlocking rectangles of Fishman’s paintings are recalled in her brushwork, where strokes repeat the rhythms of the composition. Arranging the paintings as she does, where structure echoes process, Fishman’s work always seems exquisitely scaled. All the spaces across the canvas are active; there’s never the sense, as there often is in painting, of afterthought, where shapes are crammed in like the last bit of a message on a crowded postcard.

By using either wax or spare amounts of medium Fishman gets a body to the surface of her work that’s very luxurious. There are certain advantages to painting in oil, and richness of color and surface lead the list. The disadvantage of Fishman’s work is that she is a nonrepresentational painter in the era of instant content, that her formal accomplishments are eclipsed by the absence of explicit meaning.

It’s the ambiguity of the implicit qualities of Fishman’s paintings that attracts me to them—how they’re so organized but seem so offhand. That she chooses to be a refiner rather than an innovator is not a moral flaw. Without the refinements of those painters who continue to work in the tradition of nonrepresentational modes, how can there be, as Carlyle put it, a tradition of the new? Fishman’s work is difficult, forcing the viewer to reexamine the language of expression that motivated the New York School. With Fishman, you’re convinced it’s not a dead language.

Carrie Rickey