Library Street Collective is pleased to announce Fantastic Voyage 1985-1987, an upcoming exhibition with Detroit-based artist Beverly Fishman. Between 1985 and 1987, Fishman created many large-scale pastel drawings that used graphic forms and mysterious color to depict human bodies as surreal biomorphic worlds, “bodyscapes” fraught with conflict and violence. Expressionistically rendered, the corporeal environments Fishman explored were dark and cosmic, worked and reworked by play of divergent forces evoking biological change.
Like the submarine crew of Fantastic Voyage, the 1966 American science-fiction film she loved as a child, Fishman imagined an ideal spectator shrunk down to the size of a microbe and injected into a body, charged with an urgent mission of discovery and rescue. Like the film, the pastels conjure fantasies of passage through blood vessels, examinations of respiration and digestion, and the spark of synapses. The concept of the Fantastic Voyage is one of literature’s oldest forms as a framework for fiction, exemplified in the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh and Homer’s Odyssey. The quest may be for a person, an object or a place, but the movement through a bizarre landscape is usually paralleled by a growth towards maturity or acceptance in the mind of the protagonist. The mid 80s were a politically and biologically charged time in America as the AIDS epidemic intensified and spread, killing more in 1985 than in all previous years combined. At such a time, it is fitting that Fishman - always fascinated by pharmaceuticals and the body - would look to the innermost microscopic functions of human anatomy and depict it as a dark, tumultuous system of fragile and fractured parts.
The works on paper began as an investigation of the innards of a series of large-scale sculptural ‘bodies’ she had created from burlap, plaster, plastic, chicken wire and paint. “To make a sculpture larger than myself is one total experience,” she said, “Then to step back and see it … to draw it for the first time, the second time, the sculpture remains infinitely mysterious. Its essence is its human quality. My intent in drawing and painting is to go beyond the appearance of the sculpture, to peel its skin, to go beneath - to the structure - to penetrate its inner life, my inner life.” The collection of works was a fantasy of shifting scales, with gargantuan forms as the counterpoint to wall works at the atomic level. Even then, Fishman was using color to produce physical and emotional reactions; Dorothy Mayhall, Director at the Stamford Museum & Nature Center wrote at the time that the artist used “red for its blood-like life force, lemon yellow for its unrelenting aggression, and variations of grays and silver as a negotiation between them.”
For an artist whose present work is highly polished, combining brightly colored industrial processes with the handmade, it is exciting to see her early explorations in abstraction as expressive, violent and unrestricted. Highly aware of the masculinist ideologies surrounding the return of painting in the early 1980s, Fishman employed the medium of drawing in this series to undermine neo-expressionism from within. Evoking the sizes and to some extent the content of recent abstract-figurative painting in Europe and the United States, Fishman invited her viewers to turn their gazes inward, not towards any pure or self-aware “subjectivity,” but rather towards the unconscious and (non-human) material forces that at any moment could disrupt and undermine their conscious egos. Uniting the individuals in an unending stream of brute biological change that transcended all pretenses of individuality or subjectivity, Fishman’s drawings evoke the chemical, physical, physiological, and psychological “materials” that—before any process of socialization—make us who we are.
Beverly Fishman: Fantastic Voyage 1985-1987, on display from November 16 through December 21, 2019.
Pastel and charcoal on archival paper
Artwork dimensions: 54h x 91.5w in
Framed dimensions: 59h x 96.50w in
Pastel and charcoal on archival paper
Artwork dimensions: 42h x 75w in
Framed dimensions: 47h x 80w in
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