For the first time in Germany, Walter Storms Galerie is showing the powerful, visually electrifying works of American Beverly Fishman. With her highly polished “pill reliefs”, the renowned artist gives the pharmaceutical industry a completely new visual language in terms of content by creating seemingly abstract compositions in bright colours from iconic tablet shapes. Her three-dimensional, geometric wall reliefs are not immediately associated with pills; rather, they stand for a product aesthetic that counters the hard edge with a contemporary interpretation.
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Beverly Fishman’s (*1955 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) work is influenced in its imagery by advertising and the power of the pharmaceutical industry. She aims to show how science, technology and medicine influence our bodies and minds, and how our culture defines us as either sick or healthy. How our desires are fed by the mass media and the products we consume shape our identity. And so in her works she addresses the visual impact and allure of medicines… their shapes, their colours, the materials.
The formal language of her wall reliefs made of urethane paint are modelled on actually existing pills, all of which she had previously researched on the internet. The incisions on the surfaces symbolize the breakage notches that can be used to divide the pills into smaller doses. Fishman’s reliefs usually combine two to five medicines. The artist deliberately selects her carefully crafted forms according to their medical fields of application. The titles of her works bear the names of the respective medical conditions.
For Beverly Fishman, colour is an extremely material substance. Colours change according to their texture, saturation, quantity and how they are used with other colours when placed in relation to each other. To understand the effect of colours, she first develops colour studies in the form of collages. These collages are based on pill formats. Shapes chosen to evoke the tradition of high modernism, from hard-edge painting to minimalism.
To research her colour combinations, she uses, among other things, colour swatch cards from hardware stores or fragments of vinyl signs to create mixtures of various natural and synthetic colour systems. Once Fishman has decided on a colour palette, she has the tablet moulds made out of wood and specialists coat them with an automotive paint that has a direct connection to the Detroit region. Since scale affects colour relationships, she changes everything until it makes sense to her.
„I am calling this exhibition “The Promise of Happiness,” because that’s what I think what medicine offers us at this moment. My hard- edge paintings appropriate the forms of drugs and pharmaceuticals, objects that I fragment and sometimes incise. Generally combining between two and five medicines, my reliefs invite the viewer to consider prevailing notions of sickness and health, and how science and technology can either improve people’s lives or destroy us. Medicine promises us health; and many times it delivers. The rapidly- developed Covid vaccines, for example, are just the latest example of medicine’s great benefit to humankind. But at the same time, medicine’s promise is just that: only a promise. Sometimes the drugs and procedures cannot heal us, and at other times they even actively endanger us—as we see, for example, with the U.S. Opioid crisis“, says Beverly Fishman.
„For this show, I have moved away from the pastel color world of my most recent work to explore more electric colors”, she continues, “hues that I am now integrating with lines and fields of black. Right now, to capture this time, I feel a need to search for a greater dynamic than ever before – a pulsating tension between all the different components of painting: line and field, solid and void, direct and reflected color, high gloss and eggshell surface, object and wall.”
Fishman’s work is in the permanent collections of the Detroit Institute of Arts (Michigan), the Miami Art Museum (Florida), and the Istanbul Art Centre (Turkey), among others. Most recently, she has had solo exhibitions at Miles McEnery Gallery, New York (2020); Kavi Gupta Gallery, Chicago (2018); and DOSE, an exhibition curated by Nick Cave at CUE Art Foundation, New York (2017), as well as group exhibitions at the Cranbrook Museum of Art, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan (2020); Columbus of Museum of Art, Columbus, Ohio (2019); Lehmann Maupin, New York (2019); Front International, Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art, Cleveland, Ohio (2018); and the Borusan Contemporary Art Collection, Istanbul, Turkey (2017).
Beverly Fishman, who holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Philadelphia College of Art and a Master of Fine Arts from Yale University, lives and works in Detroit, Michigan, where she has also headed the Department of Painting at Cranbrook Academy of Art since 1992.
Courtesy of the artist and Walter Storms Galerie, Munich