criticismExhibitions
Saturday, February 18th, 2012

Hallucinatory Beauty: The Poetic is the Political in the Still Lives of Janet Fish


Janet Fish: Recent Paintings at D.C. Moore Gallery

February 9 to March 17, 2012
535 West 22nd Street, 2nd Floor,
between 10th and 11th avenues
New York City, (212) 247-2111

Janet Fish, Balloons, 1999. Oil on canvas, 50 x 100 inches. Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery

Janet Fish, Balloons, 1999. Oil on canvas, 50 x 100 inches. Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery

Janet Fish, the veteran realist, is known for an opulent palette and masterfully free paint application. This show of a dozen of her luminous still lives spanning the decade from 1999 to 2009 has all the feminist clarity that has made her a touchstone since the 1960s.  Her essays in domestic focus – everyday glass and plastic wrapped fruit, borrowed antique textiles, autumnal branches, souvenir toys – are at once poetic and political. Combining defined movement with detailed arrangement, Fish’s still lives mirror her reality: shelves of glass and pottery, both in the artists Soho and Vermont studios, reflect many years of collecting. She has the ability to infuse the ordinary with hallucinatory beauty.

Fish is the product of an impressive artistic lineage: her grandfather was Charles Voorhees, the American Impressionist, while her mother Florence was a sculptor and potter. Janet was raised in the Caribbean and her uncanny dissection of light might indeed reflect her island upbringing.

Janet Fish, Russian Dolls, 2009. Oil on canvas, 36 x 60 inches. Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery

Janet Fish, Russian Dolls, 2009. Oil on canvas, 36 x 60 inches. Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery

The works in this show recall the grand scale of Abstract Expressionism, the dominant artistic movement during her formative years. At Yale in the sixties she studied with Alex Katz and Philip Pearlstein; her early examinations of everyday domestic objects introduced new subject matter to still life. Her work evolved from monochrome beginnings to the evocative tableaux of the present with their passionate palette and personal context.

In Blue Decanter, Polka-Dot Bowl, Suzani, (2009) the poppy, wild lily and lupine bouquet may well have been picked from the artist’s verdant Vermont garden. An anchoring green Fiesta pitcher, replete with voluptuous reflection, could be a treasure unearthed in a local yard sale. The playful wooden figurines in Russian Dolls, (2009) are juxtaposed with ruby glass cups and an opalescent blue bowl. Tassels of an embroidered fabric provide a vibrant frame, and the inclusion of lushly blooming roses echoes the handcrafted fabric. A reflective blue glass tabletop is the magical unifier.

There’s a   seductive randomness to the complex celebratory summer scene of the show’s largest piece, Balloons, (1999).  Light infused pastels evoke a clear hot New England afternoon. People are an uncommon delight in Fish’s work. The frolicking children in the grass are no more beautifully detailed then the perfect facets of an empty cut glass bowl. But Fish is a meticulous, if organic art director.  Landscape, arranged objects and figures, all amplified by Fish’s unswerving brush, create a dynamic, hyper-realistic harmony.

Janet Fish, Blue Decanter, Polka-Dot Bowl, Suzani, 2009. Oil on canvas, 48 x 70 inches. Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery

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3 Responses to Hallucinatory Beauty: The Poetic is the Political in the Still Lives of Janet Fish

  1. Richard in Chicago says:

    “feminist clarity”? Explain, please.

    Janet Fish has always been one of my favorites. The fact that she studied with two of the most monotonous and overrated painters of our day, Katz and Pearlstein, and surpassed them, is proof of her talent.

    • ilka scobie says:

      “feminist clarity” would be the fresh appreciation for the mundane, as evidenced by Janet’s early focus on objects traditionally associated w. homemaking…. shrink wrapped fruits, Ball canning jars. Years later, that same vision
      encompasses domestic life, ordinary celebrations, infused with her brilliant palette and gorgeous painting.

  2. Jeff Wright says:

    I like the new direction of including people.

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