The Seasons at the Nassau County Museum of Art – Janet Fish

At age 81, Janet Fish is a contemporary American artist best known for her own brand of “eyeball realism.” Fish studied at Yale, where she encountered such artists as Alex Katz, Brice Marden, Richard Serra and Chuck Close, and became one of Yale’s first women to earn an MFA in 1963. Fellow 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.”

She approaches her subject matter with comprehensive veracity, scrutinized by the eye rather than sourced from a photograph. Fish imbues her paintings with a bold energy that is decidedly painterly in style. Her intricately composed still-life paintings include such everyday items as glassware, china, flowers, textiles and, at times, figures. She especially enjoys detailing intricate shapes with the play of light off their surfaces. She also likes to depict food items in plastic and glass containers, which she dubs “packaging.”

In the works displayed, Janet Fish tells a story of the seasons, especially spring and summer. Her narratives are fun to examine as the viewer can imagine numerous possible scenarios while enjoying the realistic depictions in each setting.  Lawn Party, depicts a tag sale event with ad hoc merchandise, adults working and shopping, while children play. The composition forces a definitive point of view, yet the eye is encouraged to flow from one vignette to the next.  There is harmony between the actions portrayed and the artist’s astute attention to details which convey the exuberant spirit of the season. The joy is figuring out the story!

Balloons is a brightly colored painting that evokes the joy of summertime play. The focus is on the three children in the foreground as they march uphill towards the party table. Again, Fish’s signature “eyeball realism” (aka perceptual realism) documents the patterns, color, and shapes of the balloons and the items on the table, while creating a composition animated by a distinctive perspective and implied movement. It’s up to the viewer to decide what might happen next.

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