While Fishman’s paintings do not openly narrate the events of her life, they are most certainly rooted in her cultural, political, and emotional experiences. Born in Philadelphia to an artistic family in 1939, Fishman studied art at the Philadelphia College of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, as well as the Tyler School of Art where she earned her BA in 1963. Two years later she earned an MFA at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She immediately moved to New York and was eager to engage in the art of her time. As she said in a 2016 interview, “I felt that Abstract Expressionist work was an appropriate language for me as a queer. It was a hidden language, on the radical fringe, a language appropriate to being separate.” But in the New York of the mid 60s, she found that the male-dominated art world was impenetrable and hostile.
Fishman became active in the feminist movement during the late 60s and early 70s including protest groups like WITCH - Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell. She temporarily abandoned painting for sculptural work that searched for meaning in the under-represented aspects of women’s lives. Her seminal “Angry Women” series of 1973 featured the names of important figures in the feminist movement writ large. Fishman’s subsequent embrace of gestural abstraction came just at the time when postmodernism claimed that painting was “dead.” But Fishman helped renew the language of Abstract Expressionism for a new era. Her support for the feminist cause never waivered as she advocated consistently for gay and lesbian rights. After a trip to Central Europe in 1988 with a friend who survived the Holocaust, Fishman created a body of works that approached the bitter history of mid-century Judiasm. In her last two solo exhibitions at Cheim & Read, the new, bright light of her late work was informed by her enduring love of Venice.
Fishman died in New York City on July 26, 2021. Her work is represented in many collections, including: the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.; the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia; and the Jewish Museum, New York, among others. Awards include three National Endowment for the Arts grants; a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship; and a Guggenheim Fellowship, among others. Fishman participated in several artists’ residencies, including the Emily Harvey Foundation in Venice, Italy. She had solo exhibitions at the Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire (2007) and John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida (2009). In 2016, the Neuberger Museum of Art organized the artist’s first retrospective, curated by Helaine Posner. In Fishman’s hometown of Philadelphia, the Institute of Contemporary Art held a concurrent exhibition of her small-scale work, Paper Louise Tiny Fishman Rock, curated by Ingrid Schaffner. The retrospective traveled to the Weatherspoon Art Museum, University of North Carolina at Greensboro. A retrospective of her drawings, A Question Of Emphasis: Louise Fishman Drawings opened in August 2021 just weeks after Louise’s death. It was held at the Krannert Museum of Art on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where she received her MFA in 1965.