For 28 years Artist Karen Fitzgerald has been working exclusively in the tondo form. Roundness is fundamental to her visual thinking. The form is uniquely able to convey an essence of interconnection, wholeness and metaphysical purpose. For as long as she's worked on this form, she felt that it is the right container for what she wants to say. The energies within our physical world are interconnected; Fitzgerald is interested in the process of elucidating those interconnections. In our recent conversation, Fitzgerald elaborates on her practice and shares her view on the current state of the art world.
You have been working in the tondo form, a Renaissance term for a round work of art, what was the initial influence that got you on this path?
I began working on tondos in 1988: I was working to complete a series of nine 72"x54" paintings, Nine Myseries. I was struggling with one composition, and frustrated that I could not resolve it. At the time, I was sharing a studio. My studio-mate's stretcher maker was making a delivery - he had to pass through my space to get to the other studio. We exchanged greetings, and I complained about my frustration in resolving the painting in front of me. The next day, he returned to complete his delivery. He brought me a round piece of scrap wood, the leftover from making a tondo stretcher. It was about 20" diameter. I immediately stretched up a piece of paper, and tried my composition. All the problems vanished! I realized it was the corners that were troubling me. I ordered nine 54" tondo stretchers, and have never looked back. Working on this form feels like being at home - it is comfortable, familiar, and suites exactly the ideas I wish to communicate in the work.
In your works you use precious metals like gold & silver, why do you choose these types of materials and can you elaborate on the process of blending them in your works?
I learned to gild in 2006. I was looking for a surface that was dynamic. I seem to have found much more! Long ago, all cultures used gold. They gilded funerary materials, paintings, and objects that were used in spiritual rituals. Whenever gold was used, it was always used to indicate something was sacred. This is also the reason I use gold: to remind us that we are of the sacred energies that comprise this world. The dynamic qualities of a gilded ground contribute to a sense of the painted surface being alive. As ambient light changes, the paintings also change across the course of a day, week, or year. Even a lit candle will spark the gilded surface.
The gilding occurs at the beginning of making a painting. The panel is gilded and sealed. Layers of thinned oil paint are added, and sometimes sections are selectively re-gilded. Most of the time the whole panel is gilded. Lately, with a few newer works where I was confident of my composition ideas, I've only gilded sections. Even though a lot of the gilding is covered, I feel it is important that it is there, underneath.
Would you consider each work as a reflection of your own energy while you create it, or is it an external interpretation by the audience that communicates this energy?
It is a combination of both. My work functions as an energy mirror: it contains energy that is communicated to a viewer, perceived, and incorporated into that person's energetic systems. Experiencing one of my paintings is a fusion of both energies; a new kind of energy is created. Our perceptual systems are complex and rich. As we perceive, we are inspired to also imagine. This makes a process that can continue for a long time inside a person, depending on how the energy of the work resonates. The conscious brain is also activated: memories may be cued, connections to other experiences, or more complex abstract thoughts occur throughout the experiencing of the work.
What is your take on the current state of the art world, and how do you feel about the role of the internet in artists careers?
The role of the internet is inescapable. It is the root of all the dynamic changes happening in the art market. Things are changing very quickly, and artists need to realize they must take charge of their own careers. Critics, galleries and the press have less and less influence. Of course, the top end of the market still requires all of the older structures to maintain itself, as well as the art fair circuit to constantly generate interest and excitement. That portion of the market has evolved into an unregulated type of banking: most sales happen as investment opportunities and a lot of the work is simply warehoused.
The direct manner in which artists can now build their audiences and collector bases requires more from us: we have to learn a little bit about how marketing works, how the internet functions in the world of business, and how to manage our online presence. Hopefully for the younger generations, colleges and universities will realize how much more they need to provide their students with, in addition to a solid grounding in all the traditional processes, history, and understanding that makes up the craft of being an artist.
Are you currently working on a project or have one coming up in the near future?
I am continuing to work on a series of black-ground paintings. Most of these do not have gilding, though some selectively use 23k gold. They are ruminations on the night-time sky. What are the clouds doing at night, explorations of how to depict the new moon; these paintings contain a very different sort of luminosity compared to the gilded panels of a few years ago. I am also preparing materials for a stint working in the Midwest, on the land where I grew up. My husband and I just completed building a shed which will function as a summer studio and living quarters. It's small, off-grid, and adjacent to a garden I've been creating since 1997. I don't have a clear sense of what that work will look like, but I have a powerful intuition that it needs to be made there.
This Spring I will have a solo exhibition at the Reeves-Reed Arboretum in Summit, NJ. They have a beautiful gallery on the grounds of their gorgeous arboretum. We are in the process of finalizing selections, as well as a title for the project. I will also have a presence at a few art fairs in the NYC area: the Affordable Art Fair in March, and possibly The Other Art Fair in early May.
This introduction and interview was curated by Shally Zucker for Artqol