Karen Fitzgerald

by Michaël Amy

Karen Fitzgerald’s paintings occupy a very special niche in contemporary practice, as they are invariably produced on disk-shaped supports. The tondo format, which Fitzgerald has been experimenting with for almost one quarter of a century, has been used sporadically over the course of history. Even in our age, when artists seek to distinguish themselves from the majority by creating highly idiosyncratic work, surprisingly few opt for the tondo format -or for shapes other than the rectangle or square, for that matter.

The reason for this may have to do with the architecture in which painting is invariably situated, with its horizontal floor lines and ceiling lines and rectangular doorframes and window embrasures, which are echoed in the outlines of rectangular or square paintings. The verticals in these so much more conspicuous formats are balanced by the horizontals of the pictorial supports. A classical equilibrium thereby obtains. The tondo, on the other hand, is dynamic. Its outline is continuous, and offers the eye no repose.

Additionally, the tondo claims its independence from the straight lines and corners of the surrounding architecture, thereby achieving a free-floating quality. The planets of our galaxy, likewise circular in outline, seem unfettered –although the gravitational pull of the sun keeps the planets in their individual orbits.

Another reason why the rectangular format is so much more common is that it offers a perfectly horizontal ground line on top of which to build form, and straight borders between which shapes can be easily arranged. A glance at the tondi painted by Botticelli, Signorelli, Michelangelo and Raphael shows us the precise nature of the challenges these Renaissance masters triumphed over. Painting a tondo is clearly not for the faint of heart. The tondo format puts considerable demand upon the resourcefulness of the artist.

Karen Fitzgerald bypasses many of the problems figurative artists are confronted with when they take up the tondo format, by exploiting the liquidity of her medium to evoke light emerging from darkness, and wetness morphing into gas. Alpha and omega. Fluid color spreads effortlessly across the field, articulating an organic whole that seems, as it were, inevitable. Primal energies are suggested within the circle, this most perfect geometric shape, which alludes both to the cosmos and to the course of time -for the snake biting its own tail and thereby creating a circle, symbolizes Time.

In some of Fitzgerald’s paintings, a band of gold runs around the continuous edge of the picture, and in other compositions a ring of gold hovers closer to the center, framing it more tightly. Gold was used in Medieval painting to signify the presence of the divine. When gold is absent from Fitzgerald’s pictures, light itself takes on spiritual meaning. Some works evoke the iris of the eye, as if it were reflected and distorted in a drop of dew. Is it the all-seeing eye of God, or is it I who look into myself? Man, with his limbs stretched wide apart, can be perfectly inscribed within a circle -as Vitruvius and later Leonardo have shown us- and the circle symbolizes the cosmos, time and the divine. In some of the pictures, the loose pour –a primordial ooze?- is overlaid in places with abstract calligraphy functioning as an ornament built up of disconnected vectors, or a coded language. Karen Fitzgerald’s paintings transform matter into cosmic revelations.