Janet Fish, an American realist painter, is considered to be one of the most important contemporary still life painters working today. Painting from direct observation, she is best known for colorful artworks, which capture light, shadows, and reflections, bouncing off glass and enamel surfaces. While her artistic origins were in abstract expressionism, she initially focused on landscape painting. In the 1960s and 1970s she painted fruit and then glass containers, sometimes filled with liquid in a dazzling display of color and light.
Fish grew up in Bermuda and attributes her love of light and rich color to the brightness and vibrant tropical colors of this island. She paints with intense, richly colored oil paint to show glass objects filled with liquid, glass bowls filled with fruit, glass vases filled with flowers, sumptuous textiles, porcelain objects, pottery, patterned fabrics, and illustrated books. Never favoring muted colors, she likes to use, “Every color! Any Color! Every color in the book!”
After leaving Bermuda, Fish attended Smith College and received her M.F.A. degree from Yale’s School of Art and Architecture and then moved to New York. She had originally intended to become a sculptor but instead became a painter, working in a realist style rather than the abstract style of her classmates and colleagues.
In the late 1960s, Fish painted giant frontal views of plastic-wrapped supermarket produce of oranges, peppers, apples, bananas, and tomatoes in pop-art color and extreme spatial compression. In her “Oranges” each of the five oranges, plastic wrapped on a supermarket cardboard tray, is thirty inches high, and they fill the entire picture space. In the mid-1970s, her water-glass paintings are her most ingenious achievement. Her arrangements of glass containers, filled with liquids, are seen from a frontal view. Sometimes a fractured image is amplified by the use of mirrored shelving under the objects.
In the late 1970s, Fish gives full attention to deep space. Giant still life objects fill the foreground while buildings outside her window can also be seen as she fuses near and far into a cohesive image as seen in “Grey Day.” In the 1980s, there is a more relaxed perspective with casual arrangements seen from an informal vantage point. In her 1981 “Raspberries and Goldfish,” she establishes a prismatic fracturing of color in an indefinite space extending beyond the picture frame. The viewer’s eye is led around the canvas as it follows a color wheel: circling from yellow plates to a blue fishbowl to purple flowers and finally to red raspberries.
In the 1980s, Fish visited rural Vermont and eventually spent most of the year there. She began to incorporate the Vermont landscape into her work. Her later paintings combine still life, portraiture, and landscape in expansive and lush chromatic works, which repeat colors and re-create light in circular movements.
In 2014, she had a retrospective at the Huntsville Museum of Art, starting with her works from the 1960s. Her work is in corporate collections and more than one hundred museum collections, which include the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Dallas Museum of Art, and the Whitney Museum.