Louise Fishman's "Angry Paintings"

Louise Fishman Angry Louise 1973 acrylic, charcoal and pencil on paper 26.5" x 40.25"

Louise Fishman Angry Bianca 1973 acrylic on paper 26.5" x 40.25"

Louise Fishman Angry Bertha 1973 acrylic on paper 26.5" x 40.25"

I captured these installation images during a visit Barry and I made to PS1 in May, on one of the last days during which the museum hosted the historical show of feminist art focused on the 1970's, "WACK!: Art and the Feminist Revolution". We had eagerly acquired the book long before the show opened in New York; I have no idea why we waited so long to get to the show itself.

It was even more exciting than we had expected, and one of the biggest thrills for both of us was the opportunity of seeing Louise Fishman's 1973 seminal piece, "Angry Paintings". We had heard about it/them almost from the time we met the artist eight years ago and came to know her work, but we had never seen even a representation of any of the 27 dramatic medium-sized works on paper. At PS1 they were shown as they should be, in one installation and on a dedicated wall.

While these remarkable sheets of paper look fresh enough to have been made last month, they could and should be in permanent exhibition in a major museum already. They're gorgeous, but they're also as "angry" as they ever were.

Fishman had begun her career as an abstract expressionist working with acrylics on canvas, but by the 70's she was experimenting with forms only remotely related to traditional painting. Like many of her contemporaries in the flourishing women's movement she had began to create forms related to traditional "women's work". No samplers or scarfs, but rather peculiarly-muscular abstractions "drawn" through sewing, weaving or stitching, sometimes twisting or cutting canvas and other materials, often thin, soft, unstretched cloth. Paper was next.

In a 2004 essay, "Vitruvian Woman", David Deitcher wrote about the artist:

Unable to see how her paintings could speak to the social upheaval of the early 1970s, Fishman gave up painting and embarked on a period of experimentation . . . . [But] Fishman maintains that she felt "jealous of the writers' camaraderie [of many within the radical feminist group Redstockings], of their ability to write doctrine and keep journals." In 1973, she gave poetic shape to those longings, and to the anger and frustration that accompanied them, in a series of forceful paintings on paper that were dominated by the word "ANGRY," which Fishman followed with the given name of one or more women she either knew directly or knew about.

. . . .

Responding to the boldness of these text paintings, [the academic and critic Catherine Lord] maintains that "the 'Angry Paintings,' with their confusion of letters and color, their overlays of slashes and loops, their fields of muddied pigment, their rough edges and archaeological slices, were Fishman's route home. The choices she would follow in her later work are almost all prefigured here. It may fairly be said that the explosions recorded in the series enabled Louise Fishman to return to painting." However, it would take Fishman another five years before she would again take up painting on stretched canvas; and almost three decades before she would finally claim as her own the daily practice of monumental gestural abstraction.

We feel very privileged to be here in time to see it.