In her latest show of polychrome reliefs, Beverly Fishman explores the contemporary condition of polypharmacy—the concurrent use of multiple medications—in context with the evolving role art plays in the human search for meaning and comfort. Fishman’s language of forms for this exhibition is corporeal and instantly recognizable, coming, as it does, directly from the pharmaceutical industry. But through deft use of materials and a subversive eye for editing, Fishman elevates the forms almost into the realm of icons, steeped in philosophy, metaphysics, and the sublime.
In essence, Chemical Sublime is a conversation about the relationship between abstraction and identity. Nearly 70 percent of Americans are on at least one prescription drug, and more than half take two. Antibiotics, antidepressants, statins, anti-anxiety drugs, and painkilling opioids are most commonly prescribed; and about twenty percent of patients nationwide are on five or more prescription medications. Age and gender also affect drug intake and addiction. The older we get, the more prescriptions we take. By 45, the average American takes 4 prescriptions daily. By the time we hit 65, this daily consumption of four or more pills can rotate across 15 different prescriptions; and, by age 80, the average American is on 18 different substances each year. Women, moreover, are significantly more likely than men to be prescribed or to abuse most prescription drugs, a situation that gets worse as they age and live longer than men.
By mobilizing aesthetic configurations that combine the broken forms of up to five pills, Fishman employs color, surface, scale, and environment to defamiliarize our apprehension of the multiple medicines we potentially take on a daily basis. She invites us to reconsider the historical roots of the Light and Space movement, the material grandeur of Finish Fetish, the pared down simplicity of Minimalism and the precision of Hard Edge Painting. Each of these artistic positions is, in its own way, a solution; a remedy; a panacea. Evoking their practices, Fishman’s paintings propose that—like our overmedicated population—art, too, chases a chemical sublime.