Chicago

Julia Fish

Feigen Inc.

At first glance, Julia Fish’s recent paintings read as somewhat abraded views of nature whose particularity has been slowly drained from them. What she actually accomplishes is something rather different and wonderfully complex: Fish manages to create distillations of her experiences with nature and yet provide evocative readings, reducing anecdotal description to prompt reflection on the essences just beyond the world of appearances. In its way, this is a form of quiet thunder, and the tranquility of her new work is simultaneously intense and hard-won.

Walk, 1993, seems no more than a bit of garden walkway, an accretion of bricks laid out in a rather random and lazy pattern. Seen from above, the bricks and their earthen interstices look like some detail of a spider’s web, appearing to demonstrate the rules of perspective by receding a bit toward the top of this pointedly vertical painting. Fish slows up the reading of this image by employing unexpected colors that seem stretched a hue too far, but that actually introduce poetic affinities. Her bricks are a pungent, cinnamon-brown, and they rest above rich-olive dirt, shades that might have their origin in particular moments in the world that surrounds Fish, but are now rendered in a tonal equanimity saturated with decision and reflection. No brick is scuffed, stained, or mottled, and no segment of ground gets interrupted by a pebble or crushed piece of paper; this is not merely a specific place, it becomes a mantra on the concept of knowing a small bit of the world. It is the finite actually being transformed into the infinite, and it is Fish’s special skill and sensitivity to seek that transformation—as if the opposite is probably occurring.

Fish has been working on a series of paintings based on extrapolations of the views she gets through the squarish windows of her studio, of which two, Ivy, 1992, and Flurries, 1993, were shown here. Ivy is a paean of green, an allover carpet of pointy leaflike forms that never seem to describe any actual leaves, offering us instead a complete immersion in a verdancy that nature only suggests. Fish’s distillations hover at the edge of abstraction, while remaining rooted in the stuff of the world. Flurries is a blast of winter wind, a pristine icy blue dappled with flakes of white swirling about in perpetual random rhythms, creating a constellation of the very small that inexorably begins to suggest the very large. The entire universe, all of its components, all of its variety and possibilities, finds itself playing out its dictates just beyond Fish’s studio windows. Her work continues to chart its cosmology with unerring patience, cunning, and understanding.

James Yood