Karen Fitzgerald by Judith Tolnick Champa

Karen Fitzgerald by Judith Tolnick Champa, Founder + President, Providence Biennial for Contemporary Art

Karen Fitzgerald’s astonishing painting practice adheres and refers comprehensively to the ideal, circular form known as the tondo. With controlled energy she feels and powerfully conveys to her beholders a sense of the tondo’s presence as immanence. As an artist she remains passionately involved and committed (now exclusively over two decades) to what it may disclose.

Of course any consideration of the tondo format brings High Renaissance exemplars to mind, perhaps dominantly Michelangelo in his Doni Tondo, ca. 1504, itself an early response to Leonardo. The art historian Sydney Freedberg memorably interpreted the painting’s achievement of “compact unity” and despite its organizing Holy Family structure, stressed that Michelangelo’s content, or primary concern, was in being aesthetic. As the progeny of the history of art, especially High Renaissance religious paintings, Fitzgerald’s abstract works present themselves above all as aesthetic presences. Her use of a gold leaf ground is a prime acknowledgment of the metaphysical realm that is her inspiration.

Fitzgerald concentrates respectfully but emotionally upon the spatial and surface interplay that defines her tondos. As her creative process is asserted, on the surface of her paintings she knowingly manages to manipulate a particular welling of her thinned oil pigment. With an intimate knowledge of her materials, she works with and sees reciprocities in the perceived volume of hue in her restrained palette. This predictable/unpredictable condition of making Fitzgerald recognizes as her own game of loss and control over the image.

It is the sublime moment of transformation that this artist cherishes above all, and transmits for our own astonishment. Fitzgerald’s recent series of tondos, entitled Entropy Undone, speak of the moment when physical and pictorial transformation happen, when that which yields itself up retreats, is made to return, and participate again. Fitzgerald won’t let her image simply be pulled into space as a vortex nor spun out of control eccentrically, away from the center. Never gimmicky, she manages to retain, sometimes remarkably in tandem, both effects, and both two- and three-dimensional pressures. Her unique, contemporary tondos exaggerate the plasticity of the convex and excavate the concave, setting into motion slippery silhouettes, shadows and counter-responses to internal shaping. A unique eloquence emerges.


—Judith Tolnick Champa

previously, Editor-in-Chief, Art New England

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