Janet Fish, American (1938 - )

Janet Fish

Known for large still lifes of common objects with bright colors--lime green, pink, yellow--, Janet Fish works from a loft in the SoHo section of New York City and takes pride in the fact that she paints "forbidden subjects," realistic still lifes. Her work, expressive of her highly independent spirit, is a reaction against the pure abstraction that has been prevalent for so many years in the American art world, especially in New York.

She was born in Boston into a family of artists. Her grandfather was impressionist Clark Voorhees; her mother was a sculptor which Janet originally wanted to be; and her sister, Alida, is a photographer. Janet, who grew to be nearly six-feet tall, spent much time in her childhood at the Old Lyme Colony in Connecticut with her artist grandfather and there was much influenced by American Impressionism.

At Smith College, she studied sculpture and printmaking with Leonard Baskin and also studied sculpture at Yale University. She did her first still lifes in the late 1960s and early hit upon her signature style, which was reflective surfaces often depicted in plastic wrap, glassware, and mirrored surfaces. She also showed brand names such as Windex, which aligned her with pop artists.

In the 1980s, she began spending much time in rural Vermont with her long-time companion, painter Charles Parness, and on these trips transports from SoHo the many still life props she needs for her paintings.

However, her interest in realism and the way light plays on surfaces set her apart from the prevalent modernists, and that decision has literally paid off because her work has been acquired by numerous collectors and major museums including the Chicago Art Institute, the Boston Museum, and the Whitney Museum in New York.

It is said that in her work she retained the energy she learned from the Abstract Expressionists. She has loose and linear brushstrokes with elements of abstraction, but most of her subjects are recognizable such as bags of junk food, crying children, cans of beer, etc.

Fish's work has been characterized as photorealist and has also been associated with new realism. She does not consider herself a photorealist; elements such as her composition and use of color demonstrate that her artistic point of view is that of a painter rather than a photographer.

A writer for The New York Times said that Fish's "ambitious still life painting helped resuscitate realism in the 1970's" and that her work depicting everyday objects imbued them with a "bold optical and painterly energy". Critic Vincent Katz concurs, stating that Fish's career "can be summed up as the revitalization of the still-life genre, no mean feat when one considers that still life has often been considered the lowest type of objective painting".

She has been an art instructor at the School of Visual Arts and Parsons The New School for Design (both in New York City), Syracuse University (Syracuse, New York), and the University of Chicago.

Fish had two short-lived marriages, which she claims were unsuccessful at least partly due to her high ambitions and her reluctance to be a "good conventional housewife". She resides, and paints, in her SoHo, New York City loft and her Vermont farmhouse in Middletown Springs.

In an interview, American painter Eric Fischl spoke of his admiration for Janet Fish: "She's one of the most interesting realists of her generation. Her work is a touchstone, and tremendously influential. Anyone who deals with domestic still life has to go through her, she's very important."
Fish has been honored with various awards and fellowships, including:
MacDowell Fellowship, 1968, 1969 and 1972
Harris Award, Chicago Biennale, 1974
Australia Council for Arts Grant, 1975
Hubbard Museum Award, 1991
Aspen Art Museum Woman in Arts Award, 1993
American Academy of Arts and Letters Award, 1994
Smith College Medal, 2012

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