Installing an exhibition with Richard Fishman is a primer in his working method. He is a consummate experimenter: arranging and rearranging, tweaking and turning, creating innovative approaches to “finished” works. Some of these changes are subtle: a slight turn to reveal a significant angle of the work. Others are radical: aggressively sandblasting away the surface of a sculpture.
Fishman’s experiments in art reach back to the 1960s. Since then, he has created works in a variety of materials from traditional metals to objects found in nature: stones, shells, and coral, bone and skeletons, butterflies (long before Damien Hirst), plants, and notably, over the past decade, elm wood.
What Remains includes sculpture created over the past two years and records a period of transition as the artist moved beyond his well-known Elm Tree Project. Carbon composite, which appears in his work as early as 2009, takes primacy. The elm slabs are cast in or covered over with carbon composite. While the earlier slabs retain their association with the wood surface, as time passes and the series progresses, the link to the organic is broken. The black surfaces of the large slabs are marked alternately, by the inherent pattern of carbon fiber fabric, by a sensuous and rich matte black, or—in an grouping of near-identical planks—by high-gloss surfaces that reflect and mirror light sources and viewers.
The meditative calm of the slabs finds a counterpoint in the swirling lines, thorny texture, and prickly appendages of Fishman's recent freestanding sculptures. Here the artist drapes and wraps resin-coated carbon fiber over armatures of wood or metal, creating surfaces that are stiff and shiny and twisted. Appendages protrude slightly or become spear-like. The sculptures evoke dark spirits; Fishman has entitled one Sebastian, in reference to the martyred saint who is traditionally represented shot with arrows. This body of work culminates in a massive sculpture—five feet in diameter and twelve feet high. It is a powerful presence. Shredded fibers hang loose and torn, like the windswept and water-tossed wreckage in paintings by J.M.W. Turner and Caspar Friedrich. It is What Remains.
About the Artist
A member of the Department of Visual Art at Brown since 1965, Fishman was the founding director of the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Art from 2010-2015. His work is held in the collections of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution; the Jewish Museum, NY; and the Rose Art Museum, Brandies University, among others.