In many of her still-lifes in Pinwheels and Poppies, Paintings 1980 – 2008, Janet Fish often overloads the canvas with details. No detail seems more or less important than any other and there is a virtual tug of war between lines, shapes, colors and objects for our attention that never really gets resolved even as one finally gravitates toward a recognition of what the overall composition might be. Fish, therefore, seems to use complexity to temporarily stun the interpretive process we usually bring to a painting in order to help bring about, even if it is brief, a direct experience with visual phenomena without the mediation of memory or intellect. There is so much to process and although memory and intellect ultimately win out, it takes some effort to adapt to the dynamic arrangement of so many visual details.
This is, however, a most common human experience. We pass through visually complex situations every day without recourse to memory or intellect – vast stretches of our daily lives involve light and the visual having its effect on us in an ever-changing sequence of one ‘moment’ after another with no real interference from memory or cognition. Fish, perhaps, isolates the direct experience of light as a starting point and points to the need for us to figure out where everything else in our inner reality comes from. This is a starting point, when do we begin or how do we go about memorizing and constructing meaning – what was and is the impulse to move from light to meaning? Is there value is just taking in and appreciating the world on the level of light? Our memories, which are generally weak and deficient, take from light and only can take very little to serve the various ‘higher’ purposes of the mind.
But it is not just the details of her paintings which can deliberately confound one at first. It is the details in conjunction with the reflected light that stuns. The inability to process so much complexity opens one more fully to the effect of the super-enriched depiction of the razzle-dazzle of light. Intellect and memory are stupefied as light becomes the essence of one’s primary and direct experience. Everything else is a construction and the result of effort, while the effect of light is effortless and resplendent.
In Fish’s work, furthermore, this is a light which does not just reveal objects but a light which reveals itself. Light is a trickster, a worker, a messenger and an innocent victim cum savior. We confuse light with a ‘thing itself’ but Fish refuses to allow light to play second fiddle to the world of stuff around us which would not exist but for light. Light is the girl in the supporting cast who is better than the star herself. It is significant that for a time Fish painted glass jars and plastic bottles as these are objects that prove and glorify light – light both passes through and reflects from these objects as it presents the objects to us as if they existed independently of light. Glass and plastic show what a trickster light is and light loves these objects for that reason. Glass and plastic make light the supreme ultra-diva it truly is. Take Anna Moffo, Maria Callas, Kathleen Battle, Elizabeth Schwarzkopf and throw in some Teresa Stratas and Leontyne Price and you get light.
In fact, the combination of overwhelming details and super-enriched light often creates an effect of abstraction in Fish’s pieces. This was always what the early creators of abstraction wanted – a means by which to really hit you with something meaningful beyond the mediation of memory and cognition. What is amazing about Fish’s work is that the early abstractionists felt they had to get abstraction by blurring and making the ‘real’ appear more vague. Fish seems to be saying, “Well…that’s too easy. I want to create abstraction by going to the opposite extreme. I am going to flood the canvas with so many realistic details and present light as such a rich and engaging thing, that before you can think or remember or construct a story or meaning, you will get hit with meaning from light and color itself.” She delivers abstraction through a multiplicity of competing details and a light that relishes revealing itself. It is energy, itself, Fish tries to capture and present, an energy which should awaken each viewer to the process of receiving the world through its diva-like trickster to give us the extra layers of life and meaning we so desperately crave.
DC Moore continues to amaze the Chelsea area with another not-to-be missed show. They continually present work that is beautiful to look at and which is jam-packed with thought-provoking engagement. The show Pinwheels and Poppies, Paintings 1980 – 2008 closes on the 30th, so try to get there this week if you can.