Janet Fish

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Janet Fish
Born (1938-05-18) May 18, 1938 (age 85)
EducationSmith College, The Skowhegan School of Art, Yale University School of Art and Architecture
Known forStill life paintings; art instructor at the School of Visual Arts, Parsons The New School for Design, Syracuse University, and the University of Chicago
Black Bowl Red Scarf by Janet Fish

Janet Fish (born May 18, 1938) is a contemporary American realist artist. Through oil painting, lithography, and screenprinting, she explores the interaction of light with everyday objects in the still life genre. Many of her paintings include elements of transparency (plastic wrap, water), reflected light,[1] and multiple overlapping patterns depicted in bold, high color values. She has been credited with revitalizing the still life genre.

Early life and education[edit]

Janet Isobel Fish[2] was born on (1938-05-18) May 18, 1938 (age 85) in Boston, Massachusetts,[3] and was raised in Bermuda, where her family moved when she was ten years old.[3] From a young age, she was surrounded by many artistic influences. Her father was professor of art history Peter Stuyvesant Fish and her mother was sculptor and potter Florence Whistler Voorhees.[4] Her sister, Alida, is a photographer.[5] Her grandfather, whose studio was in Bermuda, was American Impressionist painter Clark Voorhees.[6] Her uncle, also named Clark Voorhees,[4] was a wood carver[7] and his wife, a painter.[8]

Fish knew from a young age that she wanted to pursue the visual arts.[3] She said, "I came from a family of artists, and I always made art and knew I wanted to be an artist."[9] Fish was talented in ceramics and she initially intended to be a sculptor.[3] As a teenager, Fish was an assistant in the studio of sculptor Byllee Lang.[10]

Fish attended Smith College, in Northampton, Massachusetts, concentrating on sculpture and printmaking.[11] She studied under George Cohn, Leonard Baskin, and Mervin Jules.[7] She spent one of her summers studying at the Art Students League of New York and attended a painting class led by Stephen Greene.[12] Fish received a Bachelor of Arts from Smith in 1960.[10] This was followed by a summer residency at The Skowhegan School of Art in Skowhegan, Maine in 1961.[3]

Fish enrolled at the Yale University School of Art and Architecture in New Haven, Connecticut, attending from 1960 to 1963.[13] There she changed her focus from sculpture to painting.[4] Her instructor for an introductory painting class was Alex Katz, who encouraged students to explore the shows in New York galleries which expanded Fish's knowledge of the art world.[7] During that period, art schools tended to favor the teaching of Abstract Expressionism,[14] influencing Fish's burgeoning artistic style. She soon developed her own direction noting that "Abstract Expressionism didn't mean anything to me. It was a set of rules."[4]

Her fellow Yale students included Chuck Close, Richard Serra, Brice Marden, Nancy Graves, Sylvia[13] and Robert Mangold, and Rackstraw Downes. In 1963, Fish became one of the first women to earn a Master of Fine Arts from Yale's School of Art and Architecture.[4]


Fish largely rejected the Abstract Expressionism endorsed by her Yale instructors feeling "totally disconnected" from it and desiring instead the "physical presence of objects". Undaunted by the dogma of pure abstraction which reigned in her formative years, Janet Fish connected with images in the real world. Rooted in the Modernist formal tradition and the Dutch still life genre tradition, her work adheres to the world of concrete contemporary experience. Fish's simple, familiar subjects are rendered with formal complexity, richness of detail and the vibrant, tropical palette of her childhood.

Fish is interested in painting light and a concept she has on occasion called "packaging", such as jars, cellophane, and wrappers.

Among her other favorite subjects are everyday objects, especially various kinds of clear glassware, either empty or partially filled with liquids such as water, liquor, or vinegar. Examples range from glasses, bottles, goblets, and jars[3] to a fishbowl filled with water and a goldfish.[15][16] Other subjects include teacups,[3] flower bouquets, textiles with interesting patterns,[14] goldfish, vegetables,[17] and mirrored surfaces.[1]

Although Fish's work has been characterized as Photorealist or New Realism,[18] she does not consider herself a photorealist. Elements, such as her composition and use of color, demonstrate the view of a painter rather than a photographer.[11]


After graduating from Yale, Fish spent a year in Philadelphia[12] then moved to SoHo where she became friends with Louise Nevelson.[10]

Fish was 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.[17]

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".[3] She resides, and paints, in her SoHo, New York City loft and her Vermont farmhouse[11] in Middletown Springs.[19]


Fish's first solo show was at Rutherford, New Jersey's Fairleigh Dickinson University in 1967 and her first New York exhibition followed two years later.[3] Fish exhibited over 75 times nationally and internationally. Below is a selection of the exhibitions of her work.

  • Modern Contemporary Art, Freeman's, Philadelphia, group exhibition
  • Janet Fish, Pinwheels & Poppies Paintings 1980–2008, DC Moore Gallery, New York, 2017, solo exhibition
  • Janet Fish, Glass Plastic, The Early Years 1968-1978, DC Moore Gallery, New York, 2016, solo exhibition
  • The Annual 2015: The Depth of the Surface, National Academy of Design, New York, 2015, group exhibition
  • This American Life, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, MO, 2014, group exhibition
  • Fall Fantasy - Small Scale Works, Marianne Friedland Gallery, Naples, FL, 2014, group exhibition
  • Janet Fish, Panopoly, DC Moore Gallery, New York, NY, 2013, solo exhibition
  • Compelling Images, Makeready Press Gallery, Montclair, NJ, 2013, group exhibition
  • Janet Fish, Recent Paintings, Charles Birchfield Landscapes DC Moore Gallery, New York, 2012, group exhibition
  • Janet Fish, The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OH, 2006, solo exhibition
  • The Art of Janet Fish, Ogunquit Museum of American Art, Ogunquit, ME, 2004, solo exhibition
  • Janet Fish, LewAllen Contemporary, Santa Fe, NM, 2004, solo exhibition
  • Janet Fish, Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, Gainesville, FL, 2003, solo exhibition
  • Janet Fish, The Columbus Museum Columbus, GA, 2000, solo exhibition
  • Janet Fish, Paintings and Drawings Since 1975, Marsh Gallery, University of Richmond, 1987, solo exhibition
  • 76 Jefferson, 1976, Museum of Modern Art, group exhibition
  • New York Exhibition, 1969, solo exhibition
  • Rutherford, New Jersey 's Fairleigh Dickinson University, 1967, solo exhibition


Art critic Gerrit Henry has described Fish as the acknowledged master of the contemporary still life.[20]

A writer for The New York Times said that Fish's "ambitious still life painting helped resuscitate realism in the 1970's" and that she imbued everyday objects with a "bold optical and painterly energy".[21] 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".[6]

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."[22]

Fish has been honored with various awards and fellowships, including:

Fish's work is included in the permanent collection of many institutions and museums.

Museum collections[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Recently donated Janet Fish paintings: On view at Harn Museum" (PDF). Gainesville, Florida: Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art. April 3, 2003. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 10, 2010. Retrieved March 14, 2012.
  2. ^ "Janet I Fish". Artfact. Retrieved March 14, 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Kort, p. 65.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Janet Fish – Modern Still Life Painter" (PDF). Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 27, 2011. Retrieved March 14, 2012.
  5. ^ Harrison, Helen A. (December 8, 1996). "Mothers and Daughters: Tracing the Oeuvre". The New York Times. p. 23. Retrieved March 14, 2012.
  6. ^ a b Rice, Robin (Autumn 2003 – Winter 2004). "Janet Fish: Paintings". Woman's Art Journal. Woman's Art. 24 (2): 45–46. doi:10.2307/1358790. JSTOR 1358790.
  7. ^ a b c Goldberg, p. 8.
  8. ^ Goldberg, p. 14.
  9. ^ a b Goodman, Olivia (October 19, 2011). "Winners of 2012 Smith Medal announced". The Sophian. Northampton, Massachusetts: Smith College. Retrieved March 14, 2012.
  10. ^ a b c "Janet Fish" (2). Art Interview – online magazine. Archived from the original on July 11, 2009. Retrieved March 14, 2012. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  11. ^ a b c Anderson, Theo. "Janet Fish: An American Master". Bethlehem, PA: Lehigh University Art Galleries. Archived from the original on April 15, 2013. Retrieved March 14, 2012.
  12. ^ a b Goldberg, p. 10.
  13. ^ a b Goldberg, p. 9.
  14. ^ a b "Exhibition of recent paintings by artist Janet Fish on view at DC Moore Gallery in New York". ArtDaily. Retrieved March 14, 2012.
  15. ^ Gaze, p. 524.
  16. ^ "Raspberries and Goldfish". Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved March 26, 2012.
  17. ^ a b Kort, p. 66.
  18. ^ Atkins, Robert (1990). Artspeak: a Guide to Contemporary Ideas, Movements, and Buzzwords. New York: Abbeville Press. ISBN 978-1-55859-127-1.
  19. ^ "Janet Fish". artnet. Retrieved March 14, 2012.
  20. ^ University of Richmond Galleries, Marsh Gallery (September 10, 1987). "Janet Fish: Paintings and Drawings Since 1975". Exhibition Brochures.
  21. ^ Johnson, Ken (February 27, 1998). "Art Guide". The New York Times. p. 37. Retrieved March 14, 2012.
  22. ^ Eric Fischl. "Inside Man". artnet (Interview). Interviewed by Ilka Scobie. Retrieved March 14, 2012.
  23. ^ "Janet Fish - Artist". MacDowell.
  24. ^ "Janet Fish". The World's Women On-Line. Arizona State University. Retrieved March 21, 2012.


External links[edit]

Some sites displaying images of Fish's work: