Janet Fish - Untitled - Image via artfpdblogspotcom

Janet Fish /   Janet Isobel Fish

United States 1938

Painting, Prints

Janet Fish
Janet Isobel Fish
United States
August 22, 2016

Revitalizing the traditional genre of still life, Janet Fish creates impressive pieces that reveal the formal and conceptual potentials of the unexpected and often ironic blend of different common objects seen in changing lights. Her intensely colored canvases consist of precisely arranged various items, from glass bowls with fruit, vases with vivid exotic flowers, rugs, and textiles, to flea market finds. Rarely daring to include the human figure, Fish’s genre scenes represent the true delight for the viewer’s eyes with its playful and active subjects, masterly incorporated into the festive surroundings. Attempting to capture the movement of light, energy, and warmth, this American painter produces harmonious and often fairly large in scale compositions. Her command of the arrangement of elements of color can be seen even more clearly in her graphic work.

It's time for n. york plastic
Janet Fish – Monkey Business, 2005 – Image courtesy of DC Moore Gallery

Early Life, Education, and Artistic Beginnings

Janet was born in 1938 in Boston, Massachusetts, and was raised on the island of Bermuda, where her family moved when she was ten years old. She came from an artistic family, with her father being a professor of art history and her mother a sculptor and potter. Perhaps growing up in sun-kissed tropical Bermuda surrounded by the canvases of her grandfather, the noted American Impressionist Clark Vorhees, is what fueled Janet Fish’s passion for painting. It was natural and not surprising that she knew from an early age that she wants to pursue the visual arts. Also talented and interested in ceramics, and in a close relationship with the sculpting tools through her mother, she initially intended to be a sculptor. Formally studying subjects of sculpture and printmaking at Smith College she received a BA degree in 1960, and went on to obtain her MFA from Yale University School of Art and Architecture in 1963. While at Yale, Fish attended the Skowhegan Summer School in Maine, an experience which inspired her to move to New York to pursue a career as a painter, diverting her focus from the sculpture. During that period, art schools tended to favor the teaching of Abstract Expressionism[1]. At first, she followed painting in that style but soon abandoned it, still retaining the energy she learned from the Abstract Expressionists. Her loose and linear brushstrokes consist of elements of abstraction, but depiction of recognizable subjects moved her away from the current artistic trends.

Her pictures are lush and textural, teeming with organic brushstrokes and lusty color. Describing her work in terms of art history, it can be seen as a 17th-century Dutch genre sensibility combined with Abstract Expressionist brushwork, flickering Impressionist light and a sensual palette. Her interest in realism and the way light plays on surfaces set her apart from the prevalent modernists and decision has paid off, causing that her work has been acquired by numerous collectors and major museums. By 1982, Fish was given her first solo museum exhibition at the Delaware Museum of Art. Her paintings are included in the collections of a number of prestigious institutions, including the Art Institute of Chicago, Dallas Museum of Art, Detroit Institute of Arts, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and Whitney Museum of American Art, among many others. Janet’s work is a touchstone of modern still life paintings, influential for new generations of painters. She has been an art instructor at the School of Visual Arts and Parsons the New School for Design, Syracuse University and the University of Chicago. Fish has been honored with various awards and fellowships through the years.

Janet Fish combines Dutch genre sensibility with Abstract Expressionist brushwork, flickering Impressionist light and a sensual palette

 It's view of american gallery which shows plastic glass
Janet Fish – Baloons, 1995 – Image via brooklynrail.org

Realistic Artworks as the Rejection of Curently Popular Movement

Influenced by representational artists such as Fairfield Porter and Alex Katz, during her studies Fish was not always encouraged in her realistic approach, considering the fact that prestigious university’s art programs advocated the idea of inferiority of the figurative painting in relation to abstraction or conceptual work. Not finding personal and creative satisfaction in Abstract Expressionism, her wish to teach art at the college level was also hampered by the male faculty who suggested she apply to teach at a girl’s school. It was then she decided to move to New York, which proved to be a good idea – her works were accepted with a great reception and she became a part of the local art scene. Her paintings from that period of late 60’s and early 70’s are mainly studies of transparent objects and represent the beginnings of her exploration of nature and essence of light that will occupy her attention throughout her career[2]. Adopting the common, but unexpected objects such as fruits in the supermarket cellophane packages or glasses filled with liquids, the real meaning of her works were revealed in her process of the tone, gesture, color, light, scale, and composition. During the 70’s she made her compositions more complex and six-month stay in Vermont in 1978 influenced her to pay more attention to still lifes, the human figure and to transform her landscapes into complicated play of color, light and shadows. Pieces like Afternoon Reflections, June and September (1978) announce her later vibrant artworks.

Showing the reflection of her indoor and outdoor domestic life, Fish’s visual language could be perceived as the one of Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot. Speaking of historical references, still life genre has always been in a connection to various metaphysical concerns and symbolical meanings, but in the case of this artist maybe there’s no need to search for hidden stories behind, but indulge to pure visual satisfaction and feast for the eyes. She began from the simple explorations of clear glassware and its transparency and reflection and over the time her depictions were developed into complex and powerful representations characterized by pictorial movement around the canvas and more and more intense, harmoniously and precisely arranged colors. Like in the jigsaw puzzle, every tiny spot of the paint has its determined place. The masterful process of formal elements separates this artist from the other contemporary still life painters, placing Fish closer to the Impressionist’s use of broken color with the aim of building forms. Although sometimes considered as photorealistic and associated with the New realism, her work is only a reproduction of the world she sees through the elements of painting, not photography. Her subjects are color, light, movement, and space and the content is a life itself and its unusual juxtapositions of isolated moments are just a mean that she uses to express her technical skills. Highlighting the spatial depth, Fish often changes the importance of the foreground and background which results with unexpected spatial effects like in the painting Dog Days (1993) where the figure of the dog seems smaller than the watermelon pieces on the table in the foreground. The use of transparent materials offers her the possibility to emphasize the depth and volumes without traditional ways, such as chiaroscuro[3].

Fish often plays with unexpected spatial effects, changing the importance of the foreground and background

Janet Fish – Dog Days, 1993 – Image via seavestcollection.org

From Paintings and Prints to Devoted Teacher

Affected by feminist ideas that were widely represented during the late 1960’s, when the only few women taught in college art departments and rarely exhibit in museums and galleries, Janet Fish pierced through the male’s world where people even believed in different aesthetic approach depending on the sex. The masterful processing of the formal elements in her work, whether it is painting or lithograph print, provides and affirmation of life and reveals the truth about enjoyment and appreciation of the “small” things that makes our world. Often praised by critics as the painter whose still lifes revived realism in the 1970’s, Fish has always followed her instincts that separated her from the popular Abstract Expressionist’s stream that evidently showed as a good decision. Besides her successful artistic career and opulent oeuvre, she has been simultaneously dedicated to her teaching call, working as an art instructor at the School of Visual Arts and Parsons the New School for Design in New York, the Syracuse University and at the University of Chicago.

Janet Fish lives and works in New York and Vermont.


  1. Anonymous. Janet Fish, Wikipedia [August 22, 2016]
  2. Anonymous. Artist Biography, DC Moore Gallery [August 22, 2016]
  3. Doyle, N. Artist Profile: Janet Fish, Nancy Doyle Fine Art [August 22, 2016]

Featured image: Janet Fish – Untitled – Image via artfpd.blogspot.com

YearExhibition titleGallery/MuseumGroup/Solo
2016Janet Fish: Glass & Plastic, The Early Years, 1968-1978DC Moore Gallery, New York, NYSolo
2015The Annual 2015: The Depth of the SurfaceNational Academy Museum, New York City, NYGroup
2014This American LifeKemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, MOGroup
2014Fall Fantasy: Small Scale WorksMarianne Friedland Gallery, Naples, FLGroup
2014Janet Fish: PanoplyDC Moore Gallery, New York, NYSolo
2013Compelling ImagesMakeready Press Gallery, Montclair, NJGroup
2012Janet Fish: Recent PaintingsDC Moore Gallery, New York, NYSolo
2009Janet Fish: Recent PaintingsDC Moore Gallery, New York, NYSolo
2009TreesDC Moore Gallery, New York, NYGroup
2007Janet FishDC Moore Gallery, New York, NYSolo
2006Janet FishThe Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OHSolo
2006Chattanooga Gems IIHunter Museum of American Art, Chattanooga, TNGroup
2006Biennial Contemporary American RealismFort Wayne Museum of Art, Fort Wayne, INGroup
2006The Food Show: The Hungry EyeChelsea Art Museum, New York, NYGroup
2006The Figure in American Painting and Drawing 1985-2005Ogunquit Museum of American Art, Ogunquit, MEGroup
2006Painting Summer in New EnglandPeabody Essex Museum, Salem, MAGroup
2005Janet FishDC Moore Gallery, New York, NYSolo
2005Contemporary Women ArtistsIndiana State University, Terre Haute, INGroup
2004Better Still: Looking at Still Life in the Museum CollectionThe RISD Museum of Art, Providence, RIGroup
2004The Art of Janet FishOgunquit Museum of American Art, Ogunquit, MESolo
2004Everyday Mysteries: Modern and Contemporary Still LifeDC Moore Gallery, New York, NYGroup
2004Janet FishLewAllen Contemporary, Santa Fe, NMSolo
2004Janet Fish and Sally MannHollins University, Roanoke, VAGroup
2003178th Annual ExhibitionNational Academy of Design, New York, NYGroup
2003Janet FishSamuel P. Harn Museum of Art, Gainsville, FLSolo
2003Facing Reality: The Seavest Collection of Contemporary RealismNeuberger Museum of Art, SUNY Purchase, Purchase, NYGroup
2003Guaranteed Fresh! Still Life TodayDavidson Galleries, Seattle, WAGroup
2002Janet Fish: Recent PaintingsDC Moore Gallery, New York, NYSolo
2002Janet Fish Reflections, Paintings 1968 -2002DC Moore Gallery, New York, NYSolo
2001Alumni Choice ExhibitionYale University School of Art, New Haven, CTGroup
2000Janet FishDC Moore Gallery New York, NYSolo
2000The Likeness of Being: Contemporary Self Portraits by Sixty WomenDC Moore Gallery New York, NYGroup
2000Janet FishThe Columbus Museum Columbus, GASolo
1999Contemporary American Realist DrawingArt Institute of Chicago Chicago, ILGroup
1999The Paintings and Prints of Janet FishMarianne Friedland Gallery Naples, FLSolo
1999Complete Prints and Selected Works of Janet FishChicago Center for the Print Chicago, ILSolo
1999Janet Fish: New Works and Print RetrospectiveEmory and Henry College Emory, VASolo
1999Summer Group ShowDC Moore Gallery New York, NYGroup
1999Art on the Brink of the 21st CenturyMeridian International Center Washington, DCGroup
1998Contemporary Artists Welcome the New YearThe Jewish Museum New York, NYGroup
1998Janet FishDC Moore Gallery New York, NYSolo
1998Janet Fish: Selected Works 1970-1990sFort Lauderdale Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale, FLSolo
1998Food for Thought: A Visual BanquetDC Moore Gallery New York, NYGroup
1998Janet Fish: PrintsJohn Szoke Gallery New York, NYSolo
1997Janet FishThe Philbrook Museum of Art Tulsa, OKSolo
1997To Benefit the National Arts Club & Visual Arts FoundationSony Plaza New York, NYGroup
1997Still Life: The Object in American Art 1915-1995The Philbrook Museum of Art Tulsa, OKGroup
1997Four Artists, Four ObjectsFischbach Gallery New York, NYGroup
1996Janet Fish: Recent Paintings and GraphicsVered Gallery East Hampton, NYSolo
1996Starting with FlowersDC Moore Gallery New York, NYSolo
1995Janet Fist, PaintingsYellowstone Art Center Billings, MTSolo
1995Inaugual ExhibitionDC Moore Gallery New York, NYGroup
1995Cafe VeredVered Gallery East Hampton, NYGroup
1994Janet FishMarianne Friedland Gallery TorontoSolo
1993Janet Fish: Catching the LightThe Museum of Arts & Sciences Macon, GASolo
1992New Viewpoints: Comtemporary Paintings by Distiguished American Women ArtistsSeville World Expo 1992 United States PavilionGroup
1992Janet FishAspen Art Museum Aspen, COSolo
1992Janet Fish: Selected WorksOrlando Museum of Art Orlando, FLSolo
1991Janet Fish: Night PaintingsRobert Miller Gallery New York, NYSolo
1991American Realism & Figurative Art: 1952-1990The Miyagi Museum of Art Miyagi, JapanGroup
1990Art What Thou EatEdith C. Blum Institute, Bard College Annandale-on-Hudson, NYGroup
1989Oh Making Their Mark: Women Artists Move into the MainstreamCincinnati Art Museum Cincinnati, OHGroup
1988Classical Myth and Imagery in Contemporary ArtThe Queens Museum Flushing, NYGroup
1987Contemporary Still LifeThe Museum of Modern Art New York, NYGroup
1987Janet FishRobert Miller Gallery New York, NYSolo
1986Public and Private: American Prints TodayThe Brooklyn Museum New York, NYGroup
1986Janet FishFay Gold Gallery Atlanta, GASolo
1985American Realism; 20th Century Drawings and WatercolorsSan Francisco Museum of Modern Art San Francisco, CAGroup
1984Janet FishColumbia Museum of Art Columbia, SCSolo
1982Janet FishDelaware Art Museum Wilmington, DESolo
1977Janet FishTolarno Gallery Melbourne, AustraliaSolo
1976America 1976: A Bicentennial ExhibitionCorcoran Gallery Washington, DCGroup
1974Janet FishGalerie Alexandra Monett Brussels, BelgiumSolo
1973American Drawings 1963-1973Whitney Museum fo American Art New York, NYGroup

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