Remembering Louise Fishman’s ‘Angry Marilyn’

Although Marilyn’s influence on pop art is well-known, she has also inspired notable works by abstract expressionist painters like William de Kooning and Grace Hartigan. Louise Fishman, who has died in New York aged 82, included Marilyn in her 1973 ‘Angry Women’ series, Dazed reports – interestingly, this was the same year in which Norman Mailer’s Marilyn was published, and Elton John’s ‘Candle in the Wind’ was released.

“Postwar abstract expressionism was intended to be entirely self-referential, each painting presented under the pretence that it existed in isolation and without reference to anything beyond the parameters of the canvas itself. In the 1970s, when postmodernists denounced painting as a dead art form, Fishman began rebelliously re-appropriating this traditionally male-dominated medium, requisitioning abstract expressionism to speak of her time, her community, and her experiences.

Her 1973 ‘Angry Women’ series represented her return to the form, and referenced seminal figures in the feminism movement, celebrating their righteous female anger – an emotion which we are routinely conditioned to think of as unfeminine. Emblazoned with the subject’s name and the declarative adjective ‘angry’, this series reclaims feminine fury.”

Although the resemblance is purely coincidental, Louise’s painting reminded me of the opening title sequence from River Of No Return (1954.) Two of the carved wooden boards went under the hammer at Heritage Auctions in 2016, but were unsold.

UPDATE: Louise Fishman’s 1995 painting, ‘Blonde Ambition‘ – named after singer Madonna’s 1990 concert tour, and referencing Marilyn as part of a network of powerful blondes – is featured in A Question of Emphasis, a new retrospective opening at the Krannert Art Museum in Champaign, Illinois on September 24, through to February 26, 2022.

‘Blonde Ambition’ (1995)