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STANLEY FISHER (1926—1980)
Mysterious to the End
Obituary by BORIS LURIE
Published in: Boris Lurie/Seymour Krim (eds), NO!art, Cologne 1988

It was 1960 or 1961 when Comrade Stanley blew in on a sand cloud out of the wind-swept Brooklyn Sinai Desert onto the 10th Street Coop-gallery scene. The Jew-Beduin had been wandering the wilderness almost the full prescribed forty years, his icy blue eyes pointed towards the Promised Land of Manhattan; not only to conquer it, but like David to extend the righteous domain to all the heathen America.

Such a quaint and contradictory desert bird I had never seen before. The Brooklyn lower middle-class schoolteacher and devoted family man seemed hardly the type to wrap himself in the Prophet's mantle to arouse, accuse and smite. But he had been to Normandy in the War, with the Medics. He must have seen much of injured bodies, for his later NO!art collages were based on the grafting of photo faces onto faces and bodies onto bodies.

I met him as a poet. He was then about to publish the anthology, "Beat Coast East", and wished to reproduce my NO!art work. A book of Beat poetry including his own, with lots of his own drawings. Good drawings, mind you ... but Stanley was not a bona-fide registered and approved artist. Stanley didn't care about such fine distinctions. And Stanley was right!

As a schoolteacher he was conscientious, he took his work very seriously. When going to work he was dressed up prim-proper and neat. In class he demanded work, obedience and good manners.

But his cultural revolutionary work was wild and unstructured and based in equal parts on proselytizing the righteous life and the conquest of women. The teacher needed constant feminine approval. There was no conflict - the two aspects were exactly, equally important to him. In order to feel the breadth of truth within him, he required approval of the feminine regenerating principle first. He was not possessive about the women he devoured and could easily let go - of importance to him was not the individual, but the whole female gender. He had been through Reichian analysis. Lenin would have smirked at this sex-anarchic nonsense. But then Lenin was not around in these days, only Stanley, and that is very likely why we are now where we are now.

To Sam Goodman and I who had just started the NO!art March Gallery on Tenth Street, the Prophet was a veritable Godsend or so it seemed. He was the natural propagandist for our "cause". Totally liberated from limitations of human modesty, he knew not the meaning of the words "fear" or "shame" . Time was short - we felt time was very short - and giving it "all the way" and in immoderate doses was the only way. Stanley bombarded his audience with repetitiveness and persistence. But Stanley believed! Repeating and repeating meant no lack of subtlety to him but the expression of the essence in its most distilled form. And when proselytizing the females he chased, he never employed ruses or factual tricks - he wanted their bodies only if they would admire or accept his ideas straight on.

A very greedy, but totally honest approach. His sex-drive was one with his cause. Within his mind at least there reigned perfect unity. Of course others didn't quite see it that way.

We accepted Stanley as a poet, but not quite at first as a visual artist. Snobbery? That depends on the point of view. Individual styles had been developed with much travail over the years. We still believed in such idols. A bourgeois throwback? More likely it was market-conditioning.

But to Stanley borrowing styles meant nothing: if he made it his own it belonged to him. He likewise would not have minded if someone pinched his style. But the situation was pretty much the other way around - Stanley did the taking. He had been lucky not to have been contaminated with all that art-history and so-called ethics of the trade. He worked with unbelievable ease and speed and nonchalance and left the "originator" gaping with his ventriloquistic talent. Left him also very soured. In the end his 1962 Punk style became his own.

But then Stanley had other things in mind, not just "art". His idea was to revamp society on a tribal basis, as I perceive it. So what then is "art" if one breathes the social flow of populations, of recreation of the whole world? Of what importance is then an "originator" or a hardworking "organizer"? When God's hot sandstorm blows out of the Sinai Desert it is only His Prophet who counts. We had to exclude him from the group.

I ran into Stanley only a few times, casually, since the rout of NO!art in 1964. He was inevitably accompanied by members of his "family", who eagerly hung on to every word that spilled from the Master's lips. Conversation was very difficult.

About 1970 I visited him at his home on King Street in the Village. I was happy to be able to salvage something of his excellent work for this book on NO!art I was then editing. He operated nicely, no problems.

He sat in an impressive looking large armchair decked out in colorful cloth, reposed, at peace, and glad to show off to me his successful achievement, his "family". The room was neat, well kept and its walls decorated with colorful abstractions of oriental symbols in extra bright colors. A far cry from his NO!art full of satire, violence and castigation.

Seated around a pail in the kitchen were about four of his "family" girls peeling potatoes. They talked in hushed tones while Stanley and I carried on our conversation. The Rabbi weighed and tasted with enjoyment every word he uttered. It seemed I was visiting my mother's old white-bearded Chassidic uncle in Riga, Russia. Uncle Moyshe had only one wife, Aunt Mina, slightly deaf, a fantastic cook of Jewish sweets, she was always puttering around the kitchen, hardly entered the dining room except to serve visitors. Stanley must have come around full circle. In the end the Rabbi lived contentedly.

I saw Stanley for the last time at Catholic St. Vincent's Hospital in the Village two months ago. He had been there, I found out, for a whole six months, the victim of what appeared to be a mysterious brain disease. One of the girls was always at his bedside, there was always one to answer the phone when I called. It was OK for me to be admitted, one of the girls motioned from the doorway of his room when I came in. She then told me that Stanley wished me to hold his hand. He had a way of communicating with the girls without speaking. I held his hand and kept on shaking it up and own, a handshake and at the same time a playful movement, like children dancing in a circle and moving hands and arms in tune with a melody.

Stanley seemed to like it fine at the start. But he looked intensely at me all the while, pierced me with his water-blue, non-Jewish, frightening upsetting stare. God knows what went through his mind! Was he angry I stayed behind in this world while he had to leave? Or was he giving me a message, directions towards my future conduct? Or was he referring to something that happened between us in the past? Or was he reprimanding me for something? A stare from a man about to die can never be taken too seriously.

He then mumbled and the girl said he wanted me to leave. Had I done anything wrong? Did he find the handshaking inappropriate to the situation? Did he mind I had been talking to the girl while shaking hands with him? It was most unpleasant having to leave like this.

A few days later I sent him a bunch of flowers with a note, "Get well soon Stanley". Then he miraculously recovered, but only temporarily. He assured me on the phone, he insisted he would get well. It sounded like a promise and like defiance.

I forgot about Stanley for a few weeks, what with problems and other people dying, an old Russian friend, and my last uncle in Leningrad. A waitress in a Second Avenue luncheonette told me just the other day that Stanley had indeed died. I called up his house to verify it, - one of the girls told me, yes, it was correct, he had died on March 7th 1980, and the girls kept his ashes in the apartment.

And I am going off tonight to see a strip-show, a gyrating behind might convince me we are still alive.

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Obituary by George Wallace
in: Poetrybay, Winter 2006-7, Long Island, New York

Forty years since the heyday of the NO!art movement in New York City, this largely overlooked segment of American art history is once again seeing the light of day.

Fueled in part by exhibitions of the visual arts produced by its core membership -- in Manhattan, in Germany and in the midwestern US -- as well as video productions and an internet site dedicated to the group, there's been a resurgence of interest in the NO!art movement of the early 1960s in New York City in recent years.

Consisting principally of visual artists but also including videographic pioneers like Aldo Tambellini and such writers as Stanley Fisher, the NO!art collective was active in New York in the late 1950s and early ‘60s.

Founded by Buchenwald survivor Boris Lurie, along with Sam Goodman, and joined by Fisher in late 1959, the group produced a large body of confrontational works of art which drew on commercial images, pin-up nudes and photographs of war atrocities.

Originally identified as the March Gallery Group, the members of the NO!art collective espoused street art, graffiti and what they described as “violent expressionism.” These disturbing and powerful works were created in response to the contrast between the superficial consumer culture of the postwar era and the horror of the recent past, including the Holocaust and the atomic crises of the cold war.

And aside from these visual forms, the group provided a platform for wordcrafters like Stanley Fisher to add their voice to the protest.

These days, Lurie -- an octogenarian and one of the last of the NO!art practitioners -- has seen his and his colleagues' work appear at shows in Chicago, Nebraska, Iowa, Germany (Buchenwald Museum) and New York City (Clayton Gallery, Whitney Museum).

But the writing of Stanley Fisher has as yet received scant attention.


Who was Stanley Fisher?

Fisher (1926-1980), was born in working class New York, and in early adulthood was a successful and conventional teacher in the Brooklyn schools, according to his friend and colleague Boris Lurie. But he was also a poet, and interested in the downtown art scene in Manhattan, Lurie notes, particularly the 10th St galleries coop scene.

It was a scene that was politically charged and somewhat obscured by the more prominent abstract expressionist and pop art movements of the day. Fisher quickly became an associate with two of the most important figures on the scene -- Sam Goodman and Lurie -- and was a prominent spokesperson on behalf of the artistic and political turbulence of that scene.

"This Brooklyn lower middle-class schoolteacher and devoted family man seemed hardly the type to wrap himself in the Prophet's mantle to arouse, accuse and smite," says Lurie. "But he had been to Normandy in the War, with the Medics. He must have seen much of injured bodies, for his later NO!art collages were based on the grafting of photo faces onto faces and bodies onto bodies."

In its heyday, Fisher was a central figure as the NO!art group created quite a stir on the local scene. His name is prominently placed in a number of shows which attracted the attention of underground and countercultural downtown society. Among these exhibitions was the Vulgar Show, in 1960, and the following year, the Doom and Involvement shows. By the end of that year, the Gertrude Stein Gallery was mounting an exhibition of the group, entitled "NO!Show."


Fisher's collages and other visual works were classic NO!art, full of spit and fire. However, they were not so 'schooled' as the productions of some of his associates.

"We accepted Stanley as a poet, but not quite at first as a visual artist," says Lurie candidly. "To Stanley borrowing styles meant nothing: if he made it his own it belonged to him... He worked with unbelievable ease and speed and nonchalance and left the "originator" gaping with his ventriloquistic talent."

But for all his success on the NO!art scene as a visual artist, it was Fisher's wordsmithing that his colleagues hankered after the most. "To Sam Goodman and I...(he) was a veritable Godsend or so it seemed. He was the natural propagandist for our "cause." It was a talent that Stanley Fisher was able to apply in essays, prose introductions to show catalogs, and to prose poems and other literary works that appeared during the day.

Little of Fisher's work is readily available. A few of his prose-poem style essays, from NO!art catalogs, have been transcribed and posted on the internet. It is possible, with some persistence, to obtain a copy of the very fine Beat anthology he edited in 1960, which includes three of his poems. More rare, but traceable, are the 21 poems from his self-published chapbook "Eryngo."

Eryngo is a handmade, limited quantity mimeographed set of 21 poems - no publisher, no date, printed on three-hole punch paper with brass staples and dark cover art of his own devising. In it, Fisher offers up a world view that is tinged with the influence of French symbolism.

He wanders late night streets of a vagrant city past "dour houses in/which lamps prowl through gloom./Past the Hubcap-silver sea..." He encounters 'people with abbreviated lives/who gamble all night without knowing why..." When dawn arrives, it is an equivocal one at best: the sun is 'void like a tilted pinball machine..."

Perhaps the most successful of the poems in the collection is also its proseiest.

"The night presses on me as once you had,
and now dawn is my silhouette, and dusk
extends your arm to me. Hours are your
round breasts, pressing, salvaging.
Sunlight drinks from your visitation
wounded by my salvos. You breathe into
the leaves stunned by my asphyxiation...

As editor of "Beat Coast East: An Anthology of Rebellion" (Excelsior Press, NY 1960), Fisher adeptly negotiates an uneasy merger between NO!art's violent social criticism and the playfulness of young Beat literature.

The anthology is, in its essence, a joyful celebration, typical of the Beat era's unequivocal enthrallment with the societal misfit's 'dark glory on a rooftop altar.'

But Fisher amply reveals his NO!art leanings in the anthology. Illustrations of his own, those of Boris Lurie, and also Claes Oldenburg and Elaine deKooning, all starkly juxtapose a violent tone to the otherwise innocent hipster mayhem. There is a palpable violence to all of these illustrations -- more abstractly so in deKooning's case -- and become particularly graphic, confrontational and disturbingly direct in several photographs of an installation by Oldenburg.

Here we have the kernel of NO!art themes revealed in an otherwise breezy Beat anthology -- "Violent Expressionism" in its nascent form.

Editor Fisher succeeds in bringing together a marvelous collection with a lineup of Beat poets that is hard to top. He offers up a melange of authors and styles, from the jazzy and sometimes fractured excursions of Ray Bremser, Diane DiPrima, Leroi Jones, Gregory Corso and Jack Kerouac to the Blakeian/Whitmanesque visioning of Allen Ginsberg; and from the faux-innocence of Peter Orlovsky and Wavy Gravy (Hugh Romney) to the cerebral ruminations of Norman Mailer and Daisy Aldan.

But as a contributor himself, Fisher neatly fits himself into the mix.

In "Sunday," Fisher is in a hipster mode, and brings us an angular casualness, lightly praising the bedlam of strange morning wakeup, asking rhetorically "What is this strange/rickshaw of towels/at my bedside?"

And in his second poem "I Like Tall Green," that Fisher further demonstrates his talent for prose poetry, which he will reveal more fully and later put to good use in NO!art catalogues. Here, Fisher takes an ancient theme in English literature, going back to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight at least, and restages it in a be-bop street talking modality, unselfconscious and with a boyish bop-celebratory sexual edge to it: "god made the image of tall girl in virginal green and smothered in her pheasant-puffed breasts he's been trying to get fingers and all up her crotch but he's real shook up...and so there are tall girls in green dresses all over the scene and lavender nods from absent eternity..."

Fisher is not unaware of the pretentious quality of such writing. In fact he makes note of it with pride, in his preface to the anthology. He is also quick to suggest that there is a "Whitmanesque quality to it -- magnanimous and magnetic, with the jazzy beatitudes of flip America..."


While he turned more and more to visual arts -- and eventually from those to the building of an alternative lifestyle -- in order to express his alienation from society, Fisher reaches full stride as a poet in the sixties, with a number of prose writings in association with the NO!art movement.

Many of these were collected in an anthology of NO!art paintings (Lurie, Boris; Krim, Seymour (Ed.): NO!art. Köln 1988.), and more recently have found their way onto, the internet website dedicated to this movement.

Here, we find Fisher at his Kafka-esque best, leaping from rage to hysteria, and from terror to resignation, as he depicts the inhuman condition of the individual in an A-bomb world. We live, he says, in a world that is like a 'line drive single to the slaughterhouse.' In such a world, "Art should be temporary. No substance beyond the rubbish of a bomb blast and beauty parlor. It must be hideous like a body crushed in aluminum."

With overt, blatant and confrontational bodyblows, his pieces border madness, and snarl with neo-Dada resistance. "Drink emptiness...inertia is in flames..." he declares in Art In The Fallout Shelter. " The titles pull no punches. Human Debris. Spasm. Chain Gang. Demented Corpse. "A child is not an eggshell," he declares in Paid Flame, yet "The bomb is in our beds, seeking refuge from its foulness..."

Here is a full vignette by Fisher, entitled Stained: "Something happened to my nose. It had been there, and now it was gone. Now, only a hole. And still I was shaving. The mirror shriveled and collapsed, like a centipede into the wash basin. I was in a raging costume of color, my body black against the light, except for parts of me that were gone. I tried to touch myself, but a smoking glove on the floor was all that was left of my crouching hand. I laughed and sat on the toilet seat. It was searing my hot flesh with an icy brand. I heard the zombies in the courtyard, dying, dreamy with perspiration and blood. It was through jagged windows that I walked to meet them, more glass than flesh, over chains of stained heads and others screaming from their eyes."

As in his art, this is poetry of "satire, violence and castigation," as his colleague Boris Lurie wrote soon after Fisher died. "He was the natural propagandist for our cause." As an artist and as a revolutionist, said Lurie, Fisher "was wild and unstructured... totally liberated from limitations of human modesty, he knew not the meaning of the words fear or shame...Lenin would have smirked at this sex-anarchic nonsense. But then Lenin was not around in those days, only Stanley."


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