Upstairs in the Bob & Lissa Shelley McDowell Gallery, striking and abstract paintings of different sizes, shapes and colors cover the walls of the Weatherspoon. The exhibit is part of the 2017 17Days Greensboro Art & Culture Festival.
UNCG’s Weatherspoon Art Museum is the only southern venue to host “Louise Fishman: A Retrospective,” a traveling exhibit featuring the works of American abstract painter Louise Fishman.
Comprised of pieces throughout Fishman’s career since 1967, this is the first museum survey of the artist’s work. Louise Fishman is a living artist from Philadelphia, and she specializes in large-scale gestural paintings in the Abstract Expressionist style.
This particular exhibit was arranged chronologically and separated into sections. Each section had its own context, and each was an important part of the artistic narrative that has spanned Fishman’s career. Highly influenced by her surroundings, Fishman’s style changes frequently as she attempts to materialize her thoughts and feelings on her canvas.
Fishman’s earliest work through 1970 was highly influenced by minimalist grid paintings. However, she decided to quit painting altogether in favor of using different materials and experimenting with other techniques. These first pieces in the retrospective exhibit are patchwork collages, using many different materials and weaving them into geometric forms.
The paintings in the next section of the exhibit contrasted greatly to these initial quilt-like offerings, and they also stood out among the entirety of the retrospective.
Fishman’s “Angry Paintings” of the early ‘70s is a collection that visualizes her rage regarding the difficulties in the fight for women’s rights. These paintings are personal and have a great sense of ferocity that startles and grabs the viewer. This retrospective features a few of the thirty total “Angry Paintings,” and each one threatens to explode with energy.
“Angry Louise” is the first of the group, with the words scribbled aggressively across the canvas and accented with slashes of red and green. After these vulnerable and expressive paintings, Fishman thought she might never return to her old style again.
However, in 1988, Fishman was profoundly impacted again by a visit to Auschwitz. The next collection, “Remembrance and Renewal,” is a visual depiction of mourning and sadness after the Holocaust. These paintings return to her abstract foundation and are simple at first glance with wide brush strokes. Beautiful and understated, these paintings are contemplative and a sharp contrast to the “Angry Paintings.”
The next area of the exhibit features paintings that showcase calligraphy’s influence on Fishman, particularly through Hebrew characters and Chinese and Japanese calligraphy. The careful and meaningful strokes of these calligraphic styles fit in well with Fishman’s signature style of expressive marks and wide motions.
These paintings, created in the years since 1997, each feature calligraphic marks within grids. A highlight of this collection, entitled “In Paul’s Hands,” is a yellow and green commemoration of the late writer Paul Schmidt. The careful placement of these brushstrokes creates a sense of motion that is extremely intriguing.
Fishman’s most recent works are highly influenced by Joseph Mallord William Turner’s Venice paintings, which she saw in London after a visit in 2014. Her painting “Arcanum” is reminiscent of Turner in its “churning strokes” that echo Turner’s portrayal of light, rain and wind.
The painting’s accompanying notes within the exhibit say it best: “In this painting…Fishman captures the intensity of a Turner seascape and, remarkable, distills it to its essence.”
The Louise Fishman Retrospective is a striking collection, showcasing various styles and mediums. With influences from major events in world history, Fishman’s paintings are extremely important and are landmarks of her time.
Louise Fishman: A Retrospective will be featured upstairs in the Weatherspoon Art Museum until Dec. 22.