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The 23rd annual ARTWALK NY takes place this Wednesday at Spring Studios in New York. The charity art auction benefits Coalition for the Homeless, honoring artist Louise Fishman and philanthropists Vincent and Shelly Fremont. Sponsored by Max Mara with special guest Debbie Harry, the night celebrates artists who use their practice and cultural role as an opportunity for activism.
As a Jewish, feminist, lesbian, Fishman has challenged art world norms throughout her over 50-year career as a painter. A supporter of ARTWALK since 2004, Whitewall asked Fishman about her very first “artist as activist” moment.
WHITEWALL: In your experience what impact can art have in the realm of activism?
LOUISE FISHMAN: There are two organizations which I have been committed to supporting for many years: ARTWALK and Visual AIDS. There are untold numbers of charitable organizations that deserve our support.
Visual AIDS serves artists living with AIDS, ARTWALK serves New York’s homeless. These two are the ones which put artwork into service, and that is my work. Art is what I make.
I live in Chelsea. The two communities, aside from the art world, that populate my streets are gay men—many on HIV medication—and the homeless, destitute, some on drugs, unwilling for numerous reasons to spend the nights at the shelters.
My activism in this case is my ability to contribute my art work for service. I will continue to do so, as long as I am able.
WW: Tell us the story behind your first “artist as activist” moment.
LF: Aside from my teaching (1965 into early 2000s) and doing what I could to make female art students begin to understand the overwhelming effect of misogyny, disrespect, and omission facing them as students and as practicing artists/teachers, the first radical thing I did was to help form a women artists consciousness raising group, to teach the authentic method inherited from Fanshen—the basis of the Chinese revolution.
There are many things I could add regarding the shifts in my work. I think, though, the most powerful and activist was the creation in 1973 of the Angry Women Paintings; 30 paintings, each 26 x 40 inches, each referring to specific women, friends, lovers, writers, artists, my heroines. The first was Angry Louise, and it opened my eyes to the rage I felt; my 30 Angry Women Paintings were to get the world to face the rage we all felt (feel?) as women artists.