Richard Fishman: The Nature of the Work

Catalogue Essay for “Drawings And Sculpture 1980-1987″

Salena Gallery, Long Island University 

by Addison Parks, March 9, 1987

Out of a dark belly of roots rise fierce limbs, reaching, charred, to the sky; waving, resisting, signaling hope and hopelessness; informing us with each twist that we can only empathize-that we can never know-that this work can only be experienced.

What I have always admired and respected about Richard Fishman is how much he is willing to show in his work, and how little he hides. He puts it all out there. This work reminds us of what is central in each of us, and shows us that if it seems like we are alone in our feelings, we are not. After all, isn’t art a record of where life has been, offering us a chance to make connection? If Richard Fishman’s art is one thing, it is above all human. It celebrates, it fights, it bleeds. His work offers us the charm of a child inspired to build a Viking ship out of driftwood at the seashore, and the ferocity of a man who makes monuments, not out of frustration, but in defiance of it. It is made with that kind of passion, to pull it all together with whatever is within his grasp and make it work, not technically, but as a gesture of spirit. Any vulnerability in that gesture reveals the touching nature of the human condition. It is something which affirms it; something that we can all understand. Richard Fishman finds the courage to be true to his heart in his work, and that represents a triumph which gives courage to us all.

What Richard Fishman offers us is not only an opportunity to share his inspired adventure, but also a chance to experience something that can only be experienced, and never really understood-that emotional, intuitive, and spiritual side of life. This is a wonderful offer, one which has been so fulfilled in abstract painting, but left wanting in sculpture. The medium has demanded a more pragmatic spirit, one clearly allied with formalism. Well, about ten years ago Fishman found a way to let his work take on that other side, the rather scary and uncertain world which our culture threw out altogether in its search for the verifiable truth. Fishman turned away from the bright and pure light of formalism because it didn’t give him the kind of connection he wanted in his work. He went back to the garden, to what was here before institutions or governments, or even the wheel. His search for universal laws, for fundamental, even earthly values, took him first to the world of natural phenomena for answers, and then to other cultures, where the making of art echoed strangely of his own dimension. There were even occasions when the work, like a vision, anticipated his journeys by turning up shapes vital to another culture but virtually alien to our own.

The renaissance Fishman experienced in 1975 centered around letting things happen, the letting go of some of the control and reasoning of formalism. He used thin sheets of copper to register his impulses, emotional and otherwise, by crimping, bending, and pounding it, and subjecting it to corrosion. The results were supported by rods, which became lines in the sculpture like the lines in the drawing, the main arteries of emotion in the work. All of this was a delight for Fishman, providing him constant wonder. This work succeeded in cementing his bond with nature, and at the same time reinforced his faith in broader truths of existence. Making art became as much the adventure of what can happen- of endless possibility in a vast universe, instead of just self-centered issues of control, specific intentions, and achieved goals.

Enlarging the role of “allowed” accidents in the work made Fishman’s next leap possible, that is, the use of found objects. Collecting driftwood, rocks, and coral on the beach quickly became more than a pleasure and pastime. Fishman has taken these materials and used their inspired shapes as the structure for the work itself: He bonds them, or binds them with rods, paints them, coats them with cement, or gold leaf: But they are still recognizable for what they are. He does not let them just be, nor does he make them; he does both. Like the rest of us, Richard Fishman is caught between shaping the world like a piece of clay, and just passing gratefully through the garden of its experience. It is a struggle that he locates with his work, the point of impact between two worlds colliding head on. It is the erupting force at the bottom of his soul, where will and the spirit clash. The two are the converging planes of the fulcrum on which his life, and ours, rests. He has found a way to reconcile both, and his work shares this possibility with us.
The drawings are much like the sculpture in the most important sense, although they do not result from working with found materials. What they are is like the sculpture in their “imageness” They are objects isolated in a field. The field is of little importance, and the rectangle even less. This supports both the idea of sculpture as being in the round, and the prehistorical or primitive spirit of it as opposed to the rectilinearity of our western, Greco-Roman roots. The color in the drawings is also consistent with the sculpture in that it acts like clothes, and no more like picture-making than the composition. Finally, this work happens all at once. It is open, ecstatic, deep, painful, pretty, ugly, prickly, and sensuous at the same time. The sculptures have that fantastical quality of strange and exotic jettison found wet at the water’s edge, or of some ancient primitive article of ritual found deep in a cave and spot lit by a window to the sun. And yet their meaning is just what they are, and we accept them for that. They are that magical, but they are also very “made:’ maintaining the touch and vibration of the artist. It is Fishman’s latest sculpture which best describes the wonder and heights of his journey thus far. A long, thin trunk of driftwood rises up and leans in space in a gesture of dance, its gold-leafed flesh pierced with sharp, but supporting rods, and on its surface a shimmering host of iridescent, moonlit blue butterflies.