Best known for her sculptural Pill Reliefs—luminous, abstract multi-forms gleaned from the visual languages of polypharmacy and modernism—Beverly Fishman (b. 1955) reveals the experimental process that culminates in her large-scale works through these delicate collages. This collage is a working study of Untitled (High Blood Pressure, Sleepiness, Antipsychotic, Opioid Addiction (Two Doses)), 2018.
Fishman's research has long centered on humanity's relationship with the medical-industrial complex. Deftly subverting Big Pharma's visual lexicon, her work replaces chemical promises with a glowing, postmodern proposition for aesthetic transcendence. Fishman's collages offer intimate windows into her search for deeper meaning within the sensorial union of color and form, as well as her formal examination of the shapes and hues of pharmaceutical pill capsules, and her thoughts about how people take multiple pills, or parts of pills, per day.
"It's crazy the way people mix up pills, especially in nursing homes," Fishman points out. "But when a patient who should probably not be on the group of pills they're on already, then has to add a pill, it's very hard to take them off all their medication, because the side effects would be too hard to handle. So they're tweaking, looking for the right balance."
Fishman does the same with her collages, tweaking the colors and forms, looking for the right balance. "The collages are my way of getting down color possibilities and qualities of potential light that I want to come through in the finished Pill Reliefs," Fishman says. "One hundred percent, I'm looking for a sensation from these colors. I want the relief to have a presence, you know?"
The final Pill Reliefs need a high-quality finish to mimic the fabrication of the pills. Conceptually they cannot look handmade or show brush marks. The collages, on the other hand, rejoice in their handmade, hand-cut materiality. "They have become something on their own," Fishman says. "The color is sometimes very odd, because I can't imagine the relationships unless I make the collage. If I want to shift a colored line around, I literally have to tediously remake the composition as a separate collage. I don't work on the computer. I do it by hand and stand in front of the collage and look at it. I need the different versions for comparison."
As with the final Pill Reliefs, Fishman's collages possess a range of finishes, from shiny to matte. "I use all types of papers, from art stores, design stores, hardware stores, along with vinyl, cardboard, fabric, whatever," Fishman explains. "I like the materiality of color as something physical."