As the little catalog for this show states, Julia Fish's work is situated between Romanticism and Realism. These are small pictures of atmospheric conditions and architectural structures. They are intensely wrought, tightly wound, exquisite little paintings which resist preciousness by the bigness of their true subject: not the world we inhabit, exactly, but the intersection of that "real" world and the conditions of one's internal response to it.
Too bad Washington, DC is so far away from Chicago, or they could be seen in the reflected glow of the Vermeer show, which they call to mind first through their surfaces and then through their everyday subjects. These paintings are built! Built of painstaking accretions of tiny strokes, they make light happen through layers of solids, not through transparency. And Fish's loving recreation of details builds in a modular, almost pixillated way which makes reference to the photographic process. (And Vermeer did use a camera obscura, too.) Pleasure in the details of the everyday is the ultimate goal here, much as it is in Dutch still-life painting, where the micro lens is applied rather than the macro, Italianate narrative model. (Read Svetlana Alpers on the subject!)
Fish's painstaking process is not really about slowness, it's about honing in on the essence of something, and the labor of absorption. They're almost Japanese or Buddhist in that way. These are paintings of patience and repetition, but also of control, responding to floors and bricks and trees and skies by reconstructing or mimicking them. Fish makes clouds as dense as brick walls and, conversely, makes walls into luminous endlessness‹this nature/culture contradiction is almost a cliche, it's so neatly squared off. But Fish eludes what could otherwise be an easy contradiction through color, and her colors are more interesting when they're synthetic or individuated than when they're realist or symbolic. When she paints lime-orange clouds or russet-mauve-ochre siding rather than, for example, white paintings of snow, the paintings start to become almost delirious. That delirium cuts in on the controlled dance of process that her paintings are otherwise doing.
And this is where the viewer can do more than marvel at the laborious beauty or reflect on the wry modernist joke of painting walls, but escape out the window of meditation into a world of ecstatic looking.
Dear Amy: Where can I find your review of "Left of Center" at 10 in One Gallery? Thanks!