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The Art of Janet Fish

August 23 through October 15, 2004


"When people look at realist paintings, they focus on the objects, which I don't think are the subject at all. I think the object is one of the tools, like the paint and the brush. The real subject is the light, movement and color and echoes of the objects in one's mind. All those are part of what I use to make the painting." - Janet Fish


The Art of Janet Fish features the startling realistic oils for which she is known, as well as a selection of her equally fine prints. Fish's lusciously colored still lifes are filled to overflowing with flowers and glassware, dishes and toys, food and shells, and objets d'art to appeal to every taste. Born in Boston in 1938, Fish has for many years divided her time between New York City and Vermont. Both these locations, seen in interiors and in landscapes, are the settings for her not so still still life paintings. Fish's works are represented in numerous public collections, including the Whitney, Metropolitan, and Cleveland Museums of Art.

Upon examination of the gloriously colored and painterly canvases found in this exhibition, it may not surprise the viewer to learn that the artistic journey of realist painter Janet Fish began with abstraction. Abstraction was followed in the late 1960s by large-format representational still lifes of fruits and vegetables. In the 1970s, Fish continued to explore the still life genre, focusing now on the effect of light on the glass objects and surfaces that crowded her compositions. Beginning in the 1980s, Fish literally "backed away" from the tables that held her earlier still lifes, creating complex still life scenes set in expansive landscapes and intimate interiors that are filled with figures, animals and flowers.

Janet Fish was born in Boston, Massachusetts, but her family moved to Bermuda when she was eight years old and she spent the remainder of her childhood there. In Bermuda, she took art classes after school and worked in her mother's studio (Fish's mother and uncle were sculptors and her grandfather was a painter). Like her father who enjoyed digging up old bottles, the young girl was intrigued by found objects, her walks along the beach supplying her with a collection of items washed ashore. Fish suggests that the luminous island light has influenced her use of dramatic light and color; it is tempting to suggest as well that her early fascination with "things" has helped to fashion her entire painting career.

Fish received a BFA degree from Smith College in 1960, and later studied for her MFA with painters Alex Katz and Philip Pearlstein at the Yale University School of Art and Architecture. An abstract painter during most of her school career, it was during the summer of 1962 (while studying at the Skowhegan Art School) that she quit that style and began painting landscapes. Shortly after graduation from Yale in 1963, Fish began what would eventually be her forty-year concentration on still life painting.

Throughout art history, still life has traditionally ranked at the bottom of the other painting genres. This ranking is primarily due to the fact that the subjects comprising still lifes are most often the ordinary, everyday items found in a home or studio. Flowers, dishes, and objets d'art, seem to pale in comparison with portraiture, landscapes, historical scenes, and the human body. Even the term "still life" suggests something passive and immovable. This is certainly not the case with Fish's not so still still lifes, no matter how common the subjects. All of her paintings, especially those of the past two decades, are infused with bright light and movement, vibrant color combinations and vigorous brushstrokes, and a real sense of joie de vivre.

It is interesting to learn that Fish does not "compose" painted studies or drawings for her finished oils. Often she simply throws the objects on a table and begins to paint "as is."

This is diametrically in opposition to her early years when she sometimes took days to set up an arrangement and complete the painting. She has said: "I've changed; it's been thirty years and I've changed. With my early paintings of glasses, I really did spend a long time arranging them. The fact is, now when I have an idea I just slam into it."

Janet Fish is dedicated and prodigious artist who continues to "slam into" paintings with the same excellent results that have always characterized her remarkable and influential body of work.


Also on exhibit is Watercolors by Eliot O'Hara.

"I might be able to tell what I know about composition or color, but in more senses than one it would not do the student much good. If, however, I can teach him how to do the mechanical part of producing a watercolor, such as tinting a paper, blending colors, or performing the various other operations or tricks of the trade; then if he has anything to express, his hand will be ready. In other words, I shall try to give him the spelling and grammar ­ he must have the ideas." - Eliot O'Hara

During his lifetime, Eliot O'Hara (1890-1969) was one of America's most widely respected watercolorists and teachers. In addition to an extensive exhibition record, O'Hara wrote eight books, produced more than twenty films on watercolor technique, and taught classes all over the country. From 1930-1947, he ran the successful O'Hara Watercolor School at Goose Rocks Beach in Kennebunkport, Maine, the first such school in the United States. (The school burned down in the great 1947 fire that destroyed over 200,000 acres in Maine, and was never reopened).

O'Hara was born in Waltham, Massachusetts, where his father owned a successful manufacturing company. With the sudden death of his father in 1912, the twenty-two year old O'Hara took control of the business, assuming responsibility for his mother and three younger siblings. In the early 1920s, O'Hara began to paint as a form of relaxation. Soon, however, he spent more and more time developing his painting skills. When he married in 1924, he and his wife honeymooned for several months in Europe where he produced nearly three hundred paintings. That same year, some of those European-inspired watercolors were accepted into the Philadelphia Watercolor Club Annual exhibition. The following year, his first solo exhibition in Boston sold out. By 1927, O'Hara was a successful artist and could devote all his time to painting. He would go on to receive many honors during his long career, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, a life membership in the American Watercolor Society, and was one of the first watercolorists elected to the National Academy of Design.

Painting on-site, O'Hara worked without an easel, sitting or kneeling directly over his watercolor paper (usually 15 x 22 inches), with his paints and brushes to one side. With almost no formal training, O'Hara taught himself to paint and created his own personal style. Hoping to provide other beginning watercolor students with the painting techniques that he was forced to develop on his own, O'Hara wrote his first book on the subject in 1932. Making Watercolors Behave was the first of eight how-to-books to follow. In 1936, he made his first watercolor demonstration film, eventually producing twenty-four color films commissioned by the Encyclopedia Britannica Company.

O'Hara's impressionist watercolors are characterized by solid compositions painted with traditional washes, and economic brushstrokes that convey details with a startling simplicity. Said to complete most paintings in little more than an hour, O'Hara was fond of saying: "It's the last stroke that kills the picture." An avid traveler who painted all over the world (for sixteen years he painted each summer in Maine), O'Hara was a master at conveying the distinctive color and light that characterized each locale he visited.

Among the more than sixty public collections that include O'Hara's work are: the Art Institute of Chicago, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Library of Congress, the Museum of Fine Art Boston, the National Academy of Design, the National Museum of American Art, the Toledo Art Museum, the Worcester Art Museum, and the Ogunquit Museum of American Art.


Editor's note: On March, 7, 2006, Meg Kaplan, Curatorial Assistant at the Boca Raton Museum of Art, brought to the attention of Resource Library that the Boca Raton Museum of Art has forty (40) O'Hara watercolors in its permanent collection.

rev. 3/7/06

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