URBANA – Louise Fishman’s studio was exactly what one would expect from a prominent New York abstract painter, said Amy Powell.
Light entered a large, wide open room. A locker near the entrance contained tea, which she offered to guests. Sometimes she would set up chairs in front of works she had just finished, eager to discuss them with her visitors. Four years ago, Powell felt lucky to be able to visit space for the first time.
âIt’s really her space, and she doesn’t let just anyone come into her studio,â said Powell, curator of contemporary and modern art at the Krannert Art Museum. âIt’s really clear. I felt quite lucky and taken care of.
Shortly before the visit, Powell learned that Fishman had obtained a Masters of Fine Arts from the University of Illinois in 1965 after Fishman’s wife Ingrid Nyeboe called the UI in an attempt to find part of his job.
The paintings were lost in time, but the call sparked a relationship. When she visited the studio, Powell said she felt both excited and intimidated, but Fishman immediately put her at ease.
They ventured next to his archives, where Nyeboe had organized his wife’s work, some of which had never been shown to the public. While Fishman is known for her large paintings, Powell could see that her other work was of value as well. With this, an idea was formed.
âIngrid and Louise were already convinced enough of the quality and importance of her works on paper and that they had not been shown,â said Powell. âThey already had the idea of ââa ‘works on paper’ retrospective. My first time in these archives, I totally agreed that this was something we really needed to work on, because this work had to be shown, and it also taught us a lot about how we live, about how we connect with other people, and how she makes different gestures and types of interventions through her works on paper. I was really convinced of that from the start.
So began the process of creating a retrospective of Fishman’s work, which is now on display at the Krannert Art Museum. For Powell, the process involved several visits to Fishman’s studio, archives, and exhibitions. Fishman also returned to campus in 2019 to receive a Distinguished Alumni Award and lecture.
After a few years of work, Powell finally showed Fishman a catalog for the show earlier this year.
âWhen she received the first copy of the catalog, she said, ‘I could be a great artist,â said Powell. âWhich, of course, was a great artist, and she knows it. It was a little ironic, but also sort of a statement in a way, that she recognized herself in the book. She’s always learning on the job, and it’s really beautiful.
The gallery is filled with works by Fishman, including many well-known paintings, but also many that have not been on display. It includes drawings, including folded papers that unfold to show individual paintings side by side. Some works show his use of curves, while others show experimentation with different mediums, including fabric.
Fishman was scheduled to visit the exhibit, but she died suddenly on July 26 after undergoing heart surgery. After the show ended, Powell gave Nyeboe a video tour, which she described as “quite special.”
âIt was really devastating,â said Powell. âI still have a lot of questions for him. She saw the book. We worked on the catalog together, and she absolutely loved it. She recognized what the exhibition was doing, and how she thought about and presented her works on paper.
âWith Louise’s death being with her job has been the most useful thing,â Powell added. “Not only is she kind of fully present there, but her work references an attachment to so many other people.”
Throughout Fishman’s work, Powell can see his thoughts and feelings, some of which were described to him by the artist when they were seated in front of various paintings and drawings. In one room, an interview with Fishman airs on television, which can be heard throughout the gallery.
But after his death, Powell decided to give the gallery a special touch.
At the end of the exhibition is a self-portrait drawn in pencil, with lines, curves and scribbles drawing the artist’s face. While Powell always intended to include the design somewhere in the gallery, it seemed appropriate to include it as the viewers’ final impression.
âI think when people die and are remembered there are often pictures of them going around,â she said. âSo that way, I thought an image of her took on a deep presence. But I also really see her in the work. She’s in every gesture and the kind of confident conviction with the way she is. ‘engages in the history of abstract painting, with the way she produces these works that have an incredible effect and dialogue with her cohort of writers and lovers.
âThe work already has its presence. So the exhibition does so much already, I didn’t feel like I needed to do anything more to commemorate it, âshe added. “I hope more people will come to see her and remember her and learn more about her work.”