On ViewDc Moore Gallery
February 9 – March 17, 2012
We have come to expect something from a Janet Fish exhibition, and we are happy when we get it. We do not go to a Fish exhibition to be confounded, befuddled, or made to re-think what art or society may be. We go to delight in the surfaces she makes and the textures and qualities of light her paintings evoke. Going to see her work is a pleasure partially because of the certainty one will find a series of paintings that transmit a joy in looking and working to the viewer, who is then able to transform that experience into something else.
Her current exhibition of 13 oil on canvas paintings, from 1999 to 2009, at DC Moore is no exception. This particular exhibition plays a remarkable trick on the gallery space: it makes it look larger and airier than it has ever looked since the gallery moved there last year. The paintings, and the way they are installed and lit, give breath and light to the space, opening it and giving it a harmonious sense of scale. The paintings were hung graciously, with enough space between each one to allow a casual or a considered viewing.
This was a smart curatorial move, as there is so much activity in any one of Fish’s canvases that each could stand for an entire exhibition in itself. It is most productive to take an overview, then delve microscopically into the nooks and crannies and also the divisions and sectors of Fish’s meticulously constructed paintings. Many are low horizontals and show some influence from contemporary cinema in their cropping and format.
Fish’s subject matter bridges the mundane and the allegorical, tipping its hat to the Dutch vanitas tradition, while affirming a sense of American plainspokenness already present in her earliest paintings of produce in plastic wrapping. So, while these are still life paintings, with, occasionally, evidence of the life being lived around the still lifes, the real action comes not in some hackneyed reference to impermanence but rather in a contemporary sense of garishness that affirms life in all its daily vulgarity. Visually, and texturally, the paintings are anything but mundane. She lightly places one impossibly bright color after the next, limns one complex surface after another.
I love the ensembles in Fish’s paintings—both the kind that include objects arrayed on a tabletop and the kind that widen the angle to take in distant hilltops, farmland, adults and kids lounging or playing—and I love the details in her work. I like zooming in on a bowl of potato chips, a plastic mesh bag of oranges, a pinwheel. And I find particularly satisfying those areas where foreground and background meet, as in “Balloons” (1999), where the intensely bright details of a kids’ party table in the foreground give out on a volleyball game in front of a pond, and to the right of that, in close-up, three young children climbing stone steps towards the table, while a farm scene and distant road frame the scene behind them. The matter, both visual and physical, in Fish’s paintings is endless, but the telling aspect of their success is how she is able, with good humor, to integrate such disparate points of view.