Collection Highlight - Janet Fish

Janet Fish A.M.

Your initial response to work by Janet Fish may be sensory overload. But keep looking. The frenzy of color, line, and pattern will coalesce into an inviting, domestic still life--although "still" hardly seems an appropriate term for an image radiating such energy. "The real structure of the painting comes from the movement of color and light," stresses the artist. She is fascinated by the play of light on ordinary objects such as dishware, wrappers, and fruit.

In A.M., raw eggs and shells, butter, and a juiced orange bask in dazzling sunshine. Intense, white light passes through clear glassware onto a rainbow-striped cloth, discharging a frenetic tangle of shadow and dancing color. For the opportunity to heighten the effects of light and color, Fish will skew reality. She favors the energy of gestural strokes over a photographic, but static, likeness. Fish set this breakfast table not for plausibility, but for each object's interaction with light. To fully explore layered translucencies, she serves the viewer uncooked egg yolks and "whites" in clear glass. No brown toast will dull a table-top harmony in whites and yellows, in which a whole stick of butter is given a lead role. The reflective metallic wrapper flaunts its virtuosic folds and crinkles. The subject of this print is not "breakfast," but "morning light." The effect is a flood of joyous warmth.

Janet Fish studied at Yale in the 1960s, during the reign of Abstract Expressionism. While she absorbed the gestural approach and color theory, she could not embrace strict abstraction. Artist Alex Katz encouraged her to relax and have fun, to look around her for inspiration. She saw commonplace objects, the keyed-up color of shiny food wrappers, and, like Pop Artists, often incorporated commercial imagery and exuberant colors into a "fine art" medium. Within the 1970s revival of representational imagery, which included Photorealism, Fish developed her own distinctive reinvention of the still-life tradition.

A Janet Fish still life is never a memento mori, darkly warning against transient, sensory pleasures. Her work revels in sensory pleasures, urging us to linger in the simple joy and pure radiance of morning light.

Karla Niehus
Associate Curator of Exhibitions