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Julia Fish: Paintings 1989–2005

A few months ago, I posted about the Christina Ramberg installation in the Modern Wing, so I thought I would update you about another monographic installation, this time in gallery 291B.

Julia Fish’s (American, born 1950) paintings are quiet, abstract manifestations of observed realities drawn from personal experiences, memories, and her own immediate surroundings. Methodical and precise, the artist constructs her compositions with several layers of thin paint, carefully building the image into the surface, and at times eliminating visible brushstrokes and negotiating defined edges. Many of her early paintings focus on seasons, weather, and other natural phenomena. The activated image in Bloom may be read as foliage, at once backlit and glowing, and also suggests the act of viewing fluctuating forms in apparent half-light. Frost shows organic patterns of ice crystals as they accumulate on a windowpane.

Since 1991 the artist’s work has drawn upon the poetics of domestic architectural elements—including the structural appearance of the brick walls, varied floor surfaces, and glass-paned windows of her Chicago residence. Typically working in series or sets of images, Fish emphasizes a aspect or detail, defined by a work’s title. Transom #2 (Twilight) pictures an ivy-covered transom window, where nature meets architecture, in her studio on a summer evening. Painted to scale, Entry [ Fragment One ] depicts a portion of the tiled entryway in slight perspective. 5811 South Ellis frames a stone exterior wall viewed at close proximity. This painting, an exception to the context of home as a primary source for her work, records a view through one window of the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, pointing toward Fish’s parallel interest in architectural demarcations often found in public sites.

Shifting her perspective and relation to her surrounding environment, Fish’s Living Room paintings began as tracings from her residence’s second-floor plan: the sources of light and repeated movements are indicated by a set of marks and signs, specific to the images of each of 10 rooms. As she observed, “The house has become a constant companion—in a sense I live inside the subject of my work.” With tremendous authority and skill, Fish turns mindful recordings of studied details from her everyday experiences into a practical and strategic reflection on minimal representation and the ordinary structures that surround our daily lives.

If you would like to learn more about Fish’s work, listen to her Society for Contemporary Art lecture here.

The paintings (left to right) in the installation images are as follows:

Image 1: Transom #2 (Twilight), 1994 and Frost II, 1996
Image 2: Entry [ Fragment One ], 1998 and Living Rooms: NorthEast, with lights, action, 2003–05
Image 3: Bloom, 1989 and 5811 South Ellis, 1995