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Horizons: Joan Fitzgerald's Artwork at Art Dialogue

"For Summer" and "Small Boat Harbor" by Joan Fitzgerald.

The grand theme of the artwork of Joan Fitzgerald in a retrospective exhibit at the Art Dialogue Gallery is nature, even when the only nature reference is a persistent horizontality motif.

Nature, in obedience to its one great law of gravity, arranges what it arranges in horizontals. Absent other interventions, when it makes rock it makes sedimentary rock. When it makes and remakes the earth, it makes landscapes that stretch out left and right ad infinitum.

A large portion of the paintings, collages, and monoprints on display are from the artist’s Jacob’s Beach Series. These works consist almost exclusively of horizontal bands containing sometimes geometrical shapes, sometimes vaguely organic-looking forms in repetitive series, often just marker marks in stripes and squiggles, like haphazard chalk marks on a blackboard or a sidewalk.

The horizontals in the various works represent such natural environmental phenomena as shorelines, or series of incoming waves on a lake or ocean. Or artificial phenomena but formed and fitted to the natural environment, such as lines of sand castles along the beach, or beach fences, or ranks of boats in slips in a small boat harbor.

The colors are luminescent, but never gaudy. These are quiet, confident works about a geographical and psychological place of personal contentment. The Jacob’s Beach Series has an overall idyllic feel.

A large painting containing a vast field of brilliant red, called The Red Forest, is reminiscent of the work of Mark Rothko, but sacrifices some of the numinous quality of Rothko’s completely abstract color fields by opting for the slightest degree of tangible referential quality to a possible real or imagined forest in vermilion finery.

Where the artwork does attain to the numinous is in a handful of works featuring tentative and primitivistic depictions of the human figure—a recognizable trunk and limbs and head, but nothing approaching what might be called a portrait—in predominant dark reds, emerging from a contrasting background of darker reds blending to black. Or vice versa, darker emerging from lighter.

Contributing to the primitivistic effect, the painting in the human figural works is in daubs and smudges and staccato strokes, and then scratched to bare canvas, as if with the handle tip of the brush, in patterns or non-patterns similar to the stripe and squiggle marks on the beach paintings.

All in all, it looks as if it was a difficult artistic birth for these human figures. They are the only distinctly human figures in the whole body of the work. But for that matter, the only distinctly figural items at all in this work, except in the photographic parts of a number of paint-and-photo collages, which feature recognizable phenomena, including humans.

The collage works are of two types. One could be called thematic, each work containing numerous small photos or photo bits more or less on a given theme. Such themes as art and antiquities, or various ethnic cultures of New York City, or what might be aspects of the third world.

The other is a series the photos of which depict a slightly ramshackle rural house or cottage and distant shots of a boy playing in shallow water on a beach. A flyer for the show says the Jacob’s Beach Series was inspired by the artist’s summer visits to the beach with her grandson. This collage series could be a more literal depiction of that experience or series of experiences that upon further meditation and artistic labor resulted in the Jacob’s Beach paintings.

This is a fine and worthy tribute to the artist’s 40 years or more of dedication to the art of painting. The Joan Fitzgerald exhibit continues through May 28.

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