Conversation with Louise Fishman

A few weeks ago, I sat down with Louise Fishman in her cozy but austere 23rd Street apartment to discuss her two current exhibitions: “Five Decades,” a 50-year retrospective at Tilton Gallery (September 5 – October 13), and “Louise Fishman,” at Cheim & Read (September 13 ­– October 27). She will also show with her mother Gertrude Fisher-Fishman and aunt Razel Kapustin at the Woodmere Art Museum in Philadelphia (“Generations,” October 13, 2012 – Janury 6, 2013). Fishman talked fervently about her recent residency in Venice, her new wife Ingrid, and how her experiences have shaped her work. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation, which appears in the October issue of The Brooklyn Rail.

Butler: You thought about the residency in Venice for a
long time, and then finally went, and now you have created an
extraordinary body of work informed by the experience.
 Fishman: It was the most extravagant experience
about painting and being alive that I have ever had, in recent memory
anyway. Going to Auschwitz was another—it wasn’t exhilarating, but it
was intense and had ramifications for years. But this was spectacular.
So I thought, how am I ever going to be able to go back and get right to
work, because I hadn’t before. It’s always taken me sometimes months
before I can get back in. And I walked into my studio and in two seconds
I was working. I was working on about three or four paintings and I was
getting very upset because there was this odd theatricality about them
and there was also, this quality of everything moving up and out,
explosively. And I thought, what the fuck is this? I was very critical
of it because I tend to be very formal. One day I just happened to look
across at this one painting, which is now called “Assunta” and I
thought, what is this? Next to it there was a postcard of Titian’s
“Assumption.” And I looked and I thought, for Christ’s sake, its all
about Venice, it’s all about this drama in these paintings. And it’s
about the sky. So it all came to me and it was a tremendous relief.

Louise Fishman, ASSUNTA, 2012, oil on linen, 70 x 60 inches.

Butler: The paintings made you uncomfortable because they were so different from your previous work?
Fishman: They did. I felt like I was losing it. I’ve
never had anything that just sort of did that. I mean, they’ve gone all
over the place but they usually somehow evolve with something that ties
them to the ground. Standing on the floor and having the weight and
movement of your body dictate what happens, it can go all over the
place, but it stays within the confines, not necessarily of the
rectangle but of a certain distance outside of the rectangle. And this
was way off, it was going off into the skies. And I was in a very
exuberant place. Ingrid was now in my life in New York. I never thought I
would meet anybody at my age. I have a Buddhist practice and I try to
be compassionate in the world, so suddenly to have things come to me was
not easy. I mean, I used to get migraine headaches if something
happened that was good. Because, you know, God was going to strike me
dead. That was in my family, my mother was very superstitious, if you
sing before breakfast, you’re going to cry before dinner. And watch out
because they’re going to come and get you. I mean it is something that
as a Jew, coming from a European tradition was endemic.  I assume any
outsider might experience similar feelings. So, this was a very big

Butler: So you questioned the paintings, because everything else was going so well, the paintings were confusing and unexpected.
Fishman: Now I look at the paintings in the
installation and I see the terrific exuberance in them. They have
everything of me in them, and they are about this very moment…. 

Read the entire conversation here.

Image at top: Louise Fishman, THE SALT-WAVY TUMULT, 2012, oil on linen, 70 x 88 inches. Courtesy of Cheim & Read.


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