Born 1945, Newark, New Jersey
Joel Janowitz’s father, Benjamin, owned Ben’s Playland, which sold toys and playground equipment in East Paterson (now Elmwood Park), New Jersey, where Janowitz grew up. Young Joel didn’t necessarily have lots of toys, but he loved going through the store and “clandestinely examining everything.”1 His artistic calling was confirmed during after-school classes on abstract painting with a teacher who had studied with Robert Motherwell. Janowitz entered Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, as an art major but kept switching between art and psychology: art allowed him to study with Philip Guston and Michael Mazur; psychology fed his curiosity about human nature and seemed to promise a more secure career. He earned a BA in psychology (1967), immediately followed by an MFA in painting (1969) from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Within four years, his work had been acquired by major museums in New York and Boston.
In addition to oil painting, Janowitz is highly accomplished in watercolor and Citation: A unique print made by drawing or painting on the surface of a glass, acrylic, or metal plate and then transferring the image onto a sheet of paper or other material by hand-applied pressure or use of a printing press. Sometimes a second, weaker “ghost” impression or “cognate” is printed from the same inked or painted matrix.. He works in series and tends to focus on quiet, quotidian views—glass tumblers, hammocks, dogs, swimmers , hands holding playing cards. The series “Protected Trees" (2015–16) depicts his Cambridge, Massachusetts, neighborhood during road construction, the trees wrapped with orange safety netting. His Highpoint prints of greenhouses (2005) juxtapose organic plants and geometric architecture, creating a contemplative experience in which structure dissolves into space. Janowitz is interested in how our memories influence what we see and how we see it. “I like my paintings to be visual expressions of that membrane between our inner life and the world we’re perceiving,” he says.
Recognition includes a 2013 Guggenheim Fellowship, four fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and two from the National Endowment for the Arts. Janowitz was represented in “The Nature of Nature” (2015), Minneapolis Institute of Art; “Changing Soil: Contemporary Landscape Painting (Za Fukei)” (2010), Nagoya/Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Japan; “Extended Boundaries” (2005), Davis Museum, Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts; “Visions and Revisions: Art on Paper Since 1960” (2003), MFA, Boston; “At the Water’s Edge” (1990), Tampa Museum of Art, Florida; “Selections 21” (1983), Drawing Center, New York; Whitney Biennial (1973), Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and many other exhibitions. Janowitz has taught widely, including at Wellesley College; Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island; and the School of the MFA, Boston.
—Marla J. Kinney
Joel Janowitz, phone conversations with the author, April–May 2020. ↩︎