New York

Louise Fishman

Like a number of other current painters, Louise Fishman makes brushstrokes themselves the figures of her paintings. But where David Reed, for example, sculpts his fetishized brushstrokes into smooth, sinuous forms, Fishman keeps her marks raw, direct, seemingly unmediated in their record of their own making. Brushy, with hints of undercolor coming through their broken-up surfaces, these broad strokes—usually limited to verticals and horizontals, echoing the edge of the canvas—necessarily suggest veils. Like membranous planes, they separate the painting’s surface (where the image resides) and its depths (where space, and thus representation, lurk). Not that these paintings, for all their formal play, are free of allusion. Fishman herself has related a recent group of paintings to a trip to Eastern Europe in which she visited the sites of a number of Nazi concentration camps. The somber colors in these works give them a mournful tone, but they remain multivalent.

The limited range of Fishman’s almost architectonic compositional forms gives great emphasis to the physical details of her paint, to the specificities of its texture. In Kaddish, 1988, for example, the slight ridges of built-up paint that mark where Fishman lifted her brush from the canvas become central details in the composition, whether as crucial focused lines floating before the massive dark slabs of color or as poles receding into the atmospheric space of the image. These subtleties of meaning seem the result of chance, lending the work an air almost of inevitability. This sense is furthered by the tremendous energy in Fishman’s paintings, the feeling that they were painted in an urgent rush. Their quality of speed contradicts the slow complexities the artist constructs with the formal elements to which she has limited herself.

Several recent paintings here employ more definite images, rather than Fishman’s usual interlocking blocks of tone. In Mountain Inkstone, 1989, for example, a heavy black ladderlike form is centered against a washy gray-blue background; the white rectangle cut into the top of the form suggests a window. In Ironwood, 1989, a shape composed of three verticals linked by shorter horizontal strokes is placed against a deep space, with a background band suggesting a horizon line. In these and other works, Fishman seems to be pointing through the wall of brushstrokes to articulate a deeper pictorial space. Ironwood, in particular, with its space defined more by color and light than perspective, recalls Gerhard Richter’s burlesques of abstraction, in which theatrical splashes of paint sweep across delicately gradated atmospheric sheets of color. Fishman, though, foregoes the irony in Richter’s challenge to abstraction. In her subtle, moving paintings, she continues to insist on the specifics of the physical mark, with the many meanings it can suggest—and its implication that meaning itself is conditional, created.

Charles Hagen