A Conversation with Still Life Artist Janet Fish

A Janet Fish painting —

Birdcage and Daffoldils

Birdcage and Daffodils, 2009 Oil on canvas 56 x 54 inches. Art © Janet Fish/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

…  is a celebration of light and color that continually delights the eye and engages the mind. Fish invigorates the still life form, both by the energetic way she paints and the often witty and ironic combinations of objects that she depicts. Glass bowls overflowing with fruit, exotic vases filled with vibrant flowers, sumptuous rugs and textiles, seashells and a variety of flea market finds and edible treats are among the objects that are precisely arranged and rendered in decisive yet fluid strokes of intensely colored paint.

“The real structure of the painting comes from the movement of color and light across the entire surface,” Fish explains, “What matters is the complex relationship of color and form from one area of the painting to another. Eventually everything is intertwined.”

Fish begins work by setting up a still life arrangement in which special attention is paid to the selection and placement of individual elements. She has said that this process can mean spending “a whole day, sometimes whole days, just arranging the objects, moving them around and looking at them in different light.” Rather than selecting things for their symbolic meanings, she works intuitively, gathering objects that “seem right together,” allowing a theme to emerge from the assemblage itself. Because her canvases can take up to a month or more to complete, each is carefully planned to allow for a fluid situation that will be mutable, open and rich in possibilities. The paintings grow and change in time and become a record of responses to what has been seen and experienced in the process of painting.

Fish attributes her fascination with light and intense color to having grown up amid the dazzling brightness and vibrant tropical colors of Bermuda. An artistic family also contributed to Fish’s early interest in art: her grandfather was Clark Voorhees, the American Impressionist; her mother and uncle were sculptors; and her father occasionally taught Art History. She attended Smith College, where she received a B.A., before earning a Master’s Degree in Fine Art from Yale in 1963.

After graduation Fish moved to New York City. Her paintings from the late 60s and early 70s are studies of transparent objects in which she begins her life-long exploration of the nature and substance of light. From the beginning, Fish adapted commonplace objects to her painterly concerns, insisting that the subject matter — enlarged glasses, fruits covered in supermarket cellophane, and glass containers filled with liquids — was relatively unimportant. She sees the obvious subject matter, the story line, as the shallowest level of a painting. For Fish, meaning comes from the tone, the gesture, color, light, scale and composition.

During the 1970s, Fish gradually opened up the backgrounds of her paintings and introduced more color and complexity. Since 1978, she has spent half the year in New York and half in the Green Mountains of Vermont. The shift to Vermont coincided with the incorporation of still life, human figures and landscape into increasingly complex scenes in which color, light, and shadow are masterfully handled. Light and color, volume and surface, scale, gesture and the flow of paint across her canvas are what continue to absorb and fascinate her today.

Works by Janet Fish are included in the following permanent collections:

Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo

American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, New York

Art Institute of Chicago

Cleveland Museum of Art

Dallas Museum of Fine Arts

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven

and many others.

To hear Janet talk about her art, click on links below: 

01. Janet Fish Intro

02. Early Years

03. Still Life

04. Influences

Copyright Story Preservation Initiative.  All rights reserved.


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