Janet Fish

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Janet Fish
Born (1938-05-18) May 18, 1938 (age 81)
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. She paints still life paintings, some of light bouncing off reflective surfaces, such as plastic wrap containing solid objects and empty or partially filled glassware.[1]

Background and education[edit]

Janet Isobel Fish[2] was born on (1938-05-18) May 18, 1938 (age 81) in Boston, Massachusetts,[3] and was raised in Bermuda, where her family moved when she was ten years old.[3] She came from a very artistic family. 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] Another member of her family also named Clark Voorhees was her uncle,[4] a wood carver[7] whose wife was 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 had her mother's kiln available. She initially intended to be a sculptor.[3] As a teenager, Fish had a job helping out in the studio of sculptor Byllee Lang.[10]

She 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, including 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]

She 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. Fish got a sense of the direction of that art world.[7] During that period, art schools tended to favor the teaching of Abstract Expressionism,[14] and at first Fish followed along, painting in that style. She soon abandoned it, 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. She was awarded her Bachelor of Fine Arts,[10] and in 1963 became one of the first women to earn a Master of Fine Arts from Yale's School of Art and Architecture.[4]

Life and work[edit]

After graduating, Fish spent a year in Philadelphia,[12] then she took up residence in SoHo, where she and Louise Nevelson became friends.[10]

Fish largely rejected the Abstract Expressionism endorsed by her Yale instructors, feeling "totally disconnected" from it and desiring instead the "physical presence of objects"; but some of its very general principles, such as the boldness and smooth, flowing brushstrokes, may have influenced her figurative work.[3] Her work, although Realist, may include abstract forms.[1]

In 1967 she enjoyed her first solo show, at Rutherford, New Jersey's Fairleigh Dickinson University. The exhibit included detailed paintings of vegetables and fruits. Her first New York exhibition followed two years after.[3]

Fish is known for her large, bold Realist still lifes, especially the way she paints everyday items such as clear glassware partially filled with water, concentrating on the shapes of the objects and the play of light off of their surfaces.[3]

She is interested in painting light and a concept she has on occasion called "packaging." For instance, if she paints a jar of pickles, the jar becomes "packaging," and this can translate into a searching for the light that describes the jar, and a subsequent translation into color. She created still life paintings of grocery store products packaged in cellophane. She said that the "plastic wrap catches the light and creates fascinating reflections".[3]

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] Even though she was painting still lifes, she sometimes included human figures,[4] such as a girl performing cartwheels or a boy with his dog splashing in the water.[18]

Fish's work has been characterized as photorealist and has also been associated with new realism.[19] 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.[11]

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".[20] 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]

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.[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.[21]


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:

Museum collections[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "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 j k l Kort, p. 65.
  4. ^ a b c d e f "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. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  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. 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 d "Janet Fish" (002). Art Interview – online magazine. Archived from the original on July 11, 2009. Retrieved March 14, 2012. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help); Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  11. ^ a b c Anderson, Theo. "Janet Fish: An American Master". Bethlehem, PA: Lehigh University Art Galleries. 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. ^ Goddard, Donald (2001). "Janet Fish". New York Art World. Retrieved March 14, 2012.
  19. ^ Atkins, Robert (1990). Artspeak: a Guide to Contemporary Ideas, Movements, and Buzzwords. New York: Abbeville Press. ISBN 978-1-55859-127-1.
  20. ^ Johnson, Ken (February 27, 1998). "Art Guide". The New York Times. p. 37. Retrieved March 14, 2012.
  21. ^ "Janet Fish". artnet. Retrieved March 14, 2012.
  22. ^ Eric Fischl. "Inside Man". artnet (Interview). Interviewed by Ilka Scobie. Retrieved March 14, 2012.
  23. ^ "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: