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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Janet Fish

Ordering Spring, 1996, Janet Fish
Copyright, Jim Lane
Class Glass III, 1998, Jim Lane
One of the artist whom I've long admired most is Janet Fish. I've often tried imitating her, in fact, with varying degrees of success. My 1998 painting, Class Glass III (left), is one example. Were it not for the fact that, for me at least, still-lifes, in today's art market, are nigh on to impossible to sell, I would probably paint more of them. They're also very time consuming at every stage from planning, photography, drawing, painting, even framing (a poor choice of frame can ruin a still-life). One can't help but admire a painter who does nothing but hyper-realistic still-lifes, does so many of them, and does them so well.

Six Glasses of Water, (pastels) Janet Fish. This work sold at auction in 1988 for $18,800.
Skowhegan Water Glass, 1973,
Janet Fish
Some might label Janet Fish as a Photorealist. However, her paintings are seldom photographically real...that is, you'd never mistake one for a photo. I used the term "hyper-realistic" above after careful consideration. In that sense, they are "more realistic than real." One of the main differences I see between the two styles is that, farfetched as it might sound, hyper-realism very often bears a close resemblance to Abstract Expressionism, at least momentarily. At first glance. Six Glasses of Water (above) is an example. It takes a moment in first seeing it to decide what it is you're seeing. Likewise, in inspecting it close up, various segments tend to fragment into abstraction. Virtually all the still-lifes of Janet Fish bear this quality to some degree. It's especially noticeable in Fish's early transparent still-lifes such as her 1973 Skowhegan Water Glass (right). Not only is her work not Photorealism, neither is it tromp l'oel.

Goldfish, Janet Fish
Dating from a time when Pop Art was still
lingering about, and consumer products were
thus fair game, Fish's Kraft Salad Dressing (1973)
is the type work that makes me want to pop myself
in the head asking, "why didn't I think of that?"
One of the great difficulties in highlighting the work of an artist such as Janet Fish is the task of selecting from pages and pages of Internet search returns which of hundreds of paintings to present. One can easily get lost in the content, the technique, the exquisite details, and most of all, the color Janet Fish so deftly handles. One of the great eye-catching qualities of her work is her almost flamboyant color. I emphasize "almost" since in nearly every work, she walks the treacherously thin line between glorious and "over the top." Her Goldfish (above) is an example of her intense use of color, while barely managing to control it. Kraft Salad Dressing, (left) from 1973, is another example. Squint your eyes and notice it's abstract qualities.

Peaches, 1973, Janet Fish
Janet Fish, Self-portrait, 1990.
Janet Fish was born in Boston in 1938, but from the age of ten, grew up in Bermuda where her father was an art history professor. Moreover, her family tree has artists hanging from it's various branches like the fresh, fruit she loves to include in her still-lifes, though some of it, like her Peaches (above) is still wrapped in shiny, store-bought, packaging. During the late 1950s, when Abstract Expressionism had peaked and started morphing into Figural painting and other permutations, Janet Fish graduated from Smith College and attended the Art Students League in New York. Originally planning to become a sculptor, after enrolling at Yale, she switched to a painting major, studying under Alex Katz along side such artists as Chuck Close, Brice Marden, and Rackstraw Downes, to become in 1963 the first woman ever to earn a M.F.A. at Yale. A writer for The New York Times during the 1970s credited her with "resuscitating realism" and "revitalizing the still-life genre." Great! Maybe I'll yet sell a still-life some day.

Black Bowl, Red Scarf, 2007, Janet Fish
--one of her more recent resuscitation and revitalization efforts.


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