Janet Fish

by Donald Goddard

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The paintings are basically still lifes, but it is interesting what happens when people do appear in three of them. Almost all the figures are moving or active: a young girl cartwheeling in Cartwheel, two men shaking out a tablecloth and a boy running, among others, in Lawn Sale, and a young boy at the water's edge (his dog splashing in it) in John Fishing. The rest is vases, flowers, grasses, fruit, candies, plastic wrappings, fabrics, water, hills (once). Like the people, everything is moving, active, invested with energy expressed in terms of light, color, and brushstroke, all of which are the same, or part of the same. There is no gap between what the artist does and what nature is, or rather there is a huge gap that brings the two together.
Lawn Sale
Lawn Sale,
Oil on linen,
50" x 112".

Click on Image to Enlarge

Janet Fish is not interested in otherwise fabricating. It doesn't interest her to make things up, and yet the colors and light are strangely fictitious. They correspond imaginatively, or magically, to what we see, which is generally murky and variously shadowy. But of course they are exactly what we see and feel at the same time. They represent what we know about the nature of things if we are inside them, which we are all the time. And they connect only to things that we recognize, but which, now we realize, have qualities other than those we literally see. If we did not know what these objects were we would see the whole, in many cases, as a form of abstract expressionism, more so than ever in these recent works.

That is not so, for instance, in the paintings of Impressionism, Van Gogh, or Cézanne, where the scene is most definitely assumed to exist, and the artist is seeing as much in it as he or she can. There is a Gare St. Lazaire, a café at Arles, a Mt. Ste. Victoire. Fish, on the other hand, reintroduces objects and places into an abstract environment. In the process of painting she literally brings things in and arranges them--bunches of flowers, bananas, dishes that people have given her, scarves, people themselves. They are recognizable, but famous to Fish only.

Green Glass Alexis
Green Glass from Alexis
, 2001. Oil on canvas, 50" x 70".

Janet Fish revives a certain optimistic strain in American painting, not the ironic commercial optimism of Pop Art or the decorative optimism of Frank Stella, but something that has to do more directly with natural forces, with light, color, and gesture. In part it goes back to the lively, engaging surfaces of Childe Hassam, but is more profoundly rooted in the transcendental comprehension of artists like Thomas Cole from the 1820s through '40s and Fidelia Bridges from the 1860s through the 1910s. Death is hidden, or obscured. There are very few black, or even dark images in her paintings. High color values prevail throughout.

Volumes, textures, reflections, shadows, and light make themselves known on the surface so that there is constant movement. It's rather like Henry David Thoreau's observations about the constant cycling of nature, how the falling and death of leaves becomes the beginning of new life, and that nothing, in fact, is ever lost--everything is connected, or, in Fish's words, "everything is part of something else. So I work to present a situation in which things are interrelated and connected through a flow of movement, light, and color from one form to another."

Fish's Red Sari
Red Sari, 2001. Oil on linen, 48" x 60".

Colored brushstrokes manufacture the objects. They also weave them into the larger environment of the arranged scene and its physical tapestry. In Red Sari, patterns grow out of one another: the grapes decorating the pitcher from the halos of circles on the fabric, the faceted plastic wrapping from the faceted designs of the cut crystal.

Throughout Fish's work one pattern moves into another--latticework, repetitive textile designs, crinkled plastic, tennis racquet strings, a plane model, wire baskets, leaves, flowers, water ripples--ultimately creating an overall pattern that is both structured and chaotic. It is a form of weaving, of bringing things together in a way that recognizes wholeness in its presence rather than its absence.

Donald Goddard   2001

The exhibition was held at DC Moore Gallery, 724 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10019.

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