Monday, April 14, 2008

Art Space Talk: Janet Fish

Janet Fish is a contemporary realist painter and printmaker. Janet is best known for her still life paintings that reflect aspects of her daily life. These paintings often contain still life objects from her collections of glassware and other objects-- objects that serve as a starting point for her painting. Her richly colored paintings and prints can be found in public and private art collections throughout the world. She has exhibited at several important venues-- including, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (NY), the Whitney Museum of American Art (NY), as well as the Art Institute of Chicago.

Janet's educational background is impressive-- she attended Skowhegan Summer School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine, and studied sculpture and printmaking at Smith College in Massachusetts-- she graduated from Smith College in 1960. Janet attended Yale University School of Art and Architecture, where she received her B.F.A. (Bachelor of Fine Arts) and M.F.A. (Master of Fine Arts) degrees in 1963. At Yale some of her classmates included Rackstraw Downes, Chuck Close, Brice Marden and Nancy Graves.

Plastic Boxes, oil on canvas, 50 x 70 in., 2007

Brian Sherwin: Janet, you are known for creating large still life paintings of common objects. You utilize bright colors-- yellow, lime green, pink...etc. You have stated that your work focuses on "forbidden subjects"-- realistic still life's. Can you go into further detail about this and why you view it as forbidden?

Janet Fish: Maybe this comment is a little out of context. More accurately-Some subjects are not fashionable, ie, sunsets, babies etc. unless, perhaps, given a polemical or ironic spin. .

BS: In a sense, your work is a reaction against pure abstraction. In regards to pure abstraction... what is your opinion of it? Why does it not work for you, so to speak?

JF: There is much I love and respect in it, but when I was looking for my own path I felt I needed something tangible, a way out of my head, a way to discover new things. No one had taught me to paint representationally so it was a way for me to explore without those other voices in my head. To look at things to find a way of expressing what is there. The right mark, the right color.
Spring Flowers, Orange Tray, oil on canvas, 48 x 60 in, 2007

BS: Your work contains some of the energy that can be found in Abstract Expressionism. For example, you utilize loose and linear brushstrokes with elements of abstraction. However, as mentioned, your subjects are recognizable-- such as cans of beers, crying children, and bags of junk food. Can you discuss this balance between realism and aspects of abstraction? Also, how do you decide the subjects that you capture?

JF: Light is my subject , the energy of light, the way color/light can bounce around the painting, the vitality of the surface mark, the way the structure of the painting can pull the eye . I am trying to pin down the energy that is around me. there are things I see around me that will start a painting going, the textures of things together, the way colors interact in a field. Sometimes my neighbors and friends, the way they are at an event. The fact of the subject, that it is a dish, a party, or whatever, that is not the real subject, that is what gets the painting going.

BS: Janet, let us discuss your early years. Your grandfather, Clark Voorhees, was an American Impressionist. How did your grandfather influence you during your early years? I understand that your parents were artists as well? How did they influence and support you?

JF: I never knew my grandfather but his paintings were around. My Mother and Uncle were sculptors. My parents friends were artists. It was the environment I grew up in and played in. I loved making things, it was osmosis. I still love the making of something.

Nan's Kitchen, oil on canvas, 60 x 60 in., 2004

BS: You studied sculpture and printmaking with Leonard Baskin at Smith College. At what point did you move away from sculpture for painting? How did your experience as a sculptor help you as a painter?

JF: I had always wanted to be a sculptor , but when I got to Yale I found the sculpture department very Bauhaus and too restrictive for me so I began painting- something I knew nothing about and could freely explore.

BS: Janet, you were one of the first women artists to receive an MFA from
Yale University. Can you recall that experience?

JF: There were many others besides me. But it was before the woman's liberation movement , at that time we were tolerated, not really respected. When we left Yale there were no jobs - good jobs for us and not much opportunity to show. Though things have changed, even now I think we see through male eyes. Words that are used in art criticism, Tough, cutting edge- these are boy words.

BS: In 1971 you had your first solo exhibit. Your work sold out before the opening. Can you recall how you felt at that time? Were you shocked?

JF: I was in a couple of COOP galleries , 55 Mercer Street and Ours, before I got in to a commercial gallery. I had been working for quite a while on my own, so in a way I was ready to exhibit also. The show at kornblee had good press. Nothing happened suddenly. It was years before I could live off my paintings.

Balloons, oil on canvas, 50 x 100 in., 1999

BS: Janet, your art has been exhibited at several prestigious spaces-- The Whitney Museum of American Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum-- upon reflection... did you know during your early years that your work would become so successful? Did you have a 'gut' feeling, so to speak?

JF: No I did not. The artists I grew up around were not famous. It was a way of life, a vocation. that success came along was a surprise and not expected. But I did want to be a good artist - as I defined it.

BS: Janet, what concerns you about the state of the art world at this time? As you know, the current art market is booming and there is a fear that it may crash at any time. Is this a concern for you? What other concerns do you have
about the art world?

JF: Actually, since I have been working it has crashed a couple of times. With every recession. Some artists have had stunningly successful careers non-stop, but I have seen others rise fast and fall hard. I think it is important to do what you believe in and ignore the critics.

Geese in Flight, oil on canvas, 60 x 60 in., 1979

BS: Janet, do you have any advice for emerging artists?

JF: Play with fashion if you wish, but don't be a slave to it - it can change and leave you behind. Also it is freeing to have another way of making a living so you are not dependent on the market.
BS: Are you involved with any upcoming exhibits?

JF: A show currently at Mount Holyoke that will travel to Manchester Vermont and a Show at D.C. Moore in 2009 that will travel to Pensacola Florisa.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the art world?

JF: I love to see what others are doing and have done- it is a conversation. A really good show is energizing.
You can learn more about Janet Fish by visiting the following website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin


Anonymous said...

how does janet decide what objects to use?

Georgette Haviland said...


It is so wonderful to see your art work again. I remember it around the Buss house when i babysat. Do you remember when i was a prop for your husband's painting in Middle Town? I thought that was real cool. I still have a copy of the picture of the painting. Hope all is well.

Georgette Haviland
Wells VT

Pam Roberts 850-572-2608 said...

I came across your work doing some research for Pensacola's Art in Bloom the weekend of April 15th. Your work is stunning!

Anonymous said...

i LOVE your work. i am doing research for my IGCSE art exam and it is extremely inspiring. I wish i could draw like that! Id come out with As in that case :) But thats just my bream .. :(
Weel done Janet and keep up the good work :)