anet Fish is regarded as the most prominent still life painter living today. Her paintings are rich studies of glass objects, fruit and flowers, arranged in complex scenes in which light, atmosphere and lush saturated color are masterfully handled.
Janet Fish was born 1938 in Boston, Massachusetts but grew up on the island of Bermuda. Her grandfather was the American Impressionist painter Clark Voorhees and her mother, Florence Whistler Fish, was a sculptor and potter. During her teenage years Janet Fish worked as a studio assistant for the sculptor Byllee Lang. Later Janet Fish went on to study sculpture and printmaking at Smith College in Massachusetts where she graduated with a BA (Bachelor of Arts) in 1960. She continued her studies at Yale University - School of Art and Architecture shortly after Josef Albers had stopped teaching there. Her classmates included Richard Serra, Chuck Close, Nancy Graves, Brice Marden, Rackstraw Downes and Robert and Sylvia Mangold. After earning her BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) and MFA (Master of Fine Arts) from Yale University in 1963 Janet Fish moved to SoHo where she became friends with the Sculptor Louise Nevelson.
The gallerist Jill Kornblee gave Janet Fish her first big break when she decided to represent Fish after seeing her work at a cooperative gallery. During her first exhibition with Kornblee Gallery every painting was sold. Over the years Janet Fish has been represented by a variety of famous New York galleries - including Robert Miller Gallery, Grace Borgenicht Gallery and her current gallery, D.C. Moore. Janet Fish's work has been shown in many museums and private exhibitions throughout the world. In 1982 the Delaware Art Museum honored Janet Fish with her first museum solo exhibition. Janet Fish's paintings are now displayed in the permanent collections of many public museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Dallas Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
Art Interview: You recently had an exhibition at D.C: Moore Gallery, how did it go?
Nan's Kitchen, 2004
Oil on canvas
60" x 60" / 152.4cm x 152.4 cm
DC Moore Gallery
Janet Fish: I think it went fine.
Art Interview: Was there a large turnout?
Janet Fish: All of my friends come to the openings so there is a large turnout then. So I think it went great.
Art Interview: How long have you been with D.C: Moore Gallery?
Janet Fish: I've been there a while; it's been a number of years. Before that I was with Grace Borgenicht Gallery. The last show I had with Borgenicht was in 1995. Before that I was with Robert Miller Gallery and before that I was with Kornblee Gallery.
Art Interview: Was Kornblee your first Gallery?
Janet Fish: Well I was in two co-op galleries first: Ours Gallery and The Fifty-Five Mercer Street Gallery.
Art Interview: You went to D.C: Moore Gallery when Grace Borgenicht Gallery closed. Is that correct?
Janet Fish: Yes, Grace Borgenicht Gallery closed when she retired.
Art Interview: Were you referred to D.C: Moore Gallery then?
Janet Fish: I looked around. It was real easy because Moore took over their space. So it was a simple-minded transition.
Art Interview: What type of art does the D.C: Moore Gallery specialize in?
Janet Fish: Bridget Moore has a mixed group of artists. That is one of the things that I like about her. She has different types of art, not just one kind of thing. I feel more comfortable when the dealer actually looks at the work and is not just filling some type of brand.
Art Interview: Is she still actively looking for new artists?
Smirnoff's Vodka and Don Q Rum
Janet Fish: Well, she was of course in the beginning but now she has the artists she wants to represent. She had worked at another gallery before starting her own and some of those artists went with her and since then she has taken on other people. But I think that they spend a lot of time thinking before taking in anyone new since no gallery can show that many people. So they think a lot about who they will take in.
Art Interview: Did you have the intention of becoming a professional artist after you graduated from Yale and came to New York in the sixties?
Janet Fish: Oh, I always wanted to be an artist. I didn't think that I would make a living at it but I was always planning to be an artist. At that time in the sixties it was hard for women to get any decent jobs teaching. So I came to New York, which turned out to be a good thing even though it was not easy and I just took part-time jobs.
Art Interview: Were these part time teaching jobs?
Janet Fish: No, I was painting damaged shipments of soap for Bloomingdales and writing pen pal letters for groups. I worked for a while as a pediatrician's assistant. I took what ever I could get.
Art Interview: I read that when you had your first exhibition in New York all of the paintings sold before the exhibition even opened. Did that really happen?
Janet Fish: Oh...That was not my first exhibition but that was my first show at Kornblee. It wasn't that quick but they did very well. The paintings were of course very cheap. Yes, that first show did very well. But I had actually been painting for a while by then. I had already gone through school and I had shown in the co-op galleries so when I went to Kornblee my direction was worked out.
Art Interview: Were you using the co-op galleries as training ground after the university?
Janet Fish: No. I was in New York basically just painting and trying to keep my head above water when I ran into some friends from Yale. They and a couple of other people were forming a co-op gallery named Ours. So I joined up with them and we cleaned out a space, wired it up and hung paintings. We each managed to have an exhibition before the gallery fell apart. From there I went on to the Fifty-Five Mercer Street Gallery which was a co-op that started soon after Ours. I had a show there and I invited commercial gallery dealers to come to my exhibition. It was from that that I ended up getting a show at Kornblee Gallery.
Art Interview: So, Jill Kornblee was impressed enough by your work to offer you your first commercial gallery exhibition. How did she manage to sell all of your work before the exhibition actually opened?
Janet Fish: I don't know that they did sell it before the opening. That is a nice story, though. They did sell work during the opening. I think there are probably a number of factors that contributed to the success of that show; first of all, let's just say that the paintings were unbelievably cheap and then I was a new artist and she was a good saleswoman. The best thing that happened was that I got reviewed and I received good reviews.
Art Interview: Was that the point where you decided: OK I can live off of my art?
Janet Fish: Well, no, it didn't happen right away. Even if I did sell everything it wasn't enough money to live on. So I kept holding part-time jobs but the sales did make it easier. Also, I really did not want to be dependent on gallery sales for a living because I didn't want to be influenced in what I wanted to do. So for a long time I really did keep working at part-time jobs and my goal was to build up enough savings so I wouldn't be kicked out on the streets if I didn't sell enough paintings.
working in her studio.
Art Interview: You were able to do exhibitions at Kornblee once a year?
Janet Fish: Yes, for a number of years while I was at Kornblee I showed once a year.
Art Interview: In 1972, a year after your first exhibition at Kornblee Gallery, you were 34 years old and your work was in a group show at the Museum of Art Institute of Chicago. How did you get into that museum show?
This oral history transcript is the result of a tape-recorded interview with Janet Fish on March, 16 2005. The interview took place over the telephone between Berlin, Germany, and New York, New York, USA and was conducted by Brendan Davis for Art Interview Online Magazine.