Kevin Fitzgerald’s blurred, contemplative landscapes have some of the muted density associated with the nineteenth-century Swedenborgian painter George Inness. Exhibitions in August (at the East End Gallery in Provincetown, Massachusetts) and October (at Main Street Gallery in Annapolis, Maryland) showcase recent work by this evocative artist, whose soft focus simplifies forms into horizontal blocks, enlivened by multihued brushstrokes. Fitzgerald sometimes frames his views in ways that place us on the threshold of another realm. In Violet Dawn (2004) masses of shadowy trees seem to part, making way for the tender orchid-colored light filling the sky and illuminating the still waters of a pond. The greenish-black forms of River Trees (2004) are a screen through which we approach the luminous grey-gold river. Fitzgerald describes his encounters with the natural world in terms of epiphanies: “Sometimes the veil is lifted and this Other can be glimpsed, however fleetingly, the viewer is drawn to the possibility of its existence.”
Fitzgerald (b. 1953) paints studies out-of-doors to capture light effects across the low-lying water-scapes of Maryland’s Eastern Shore. But his finished works, “larger, less specific pieces…move toward a Platonic ideal,” he explains (Kevin Fitzgerald, Martin Sloan Press, 2001). As with Inness, the spiritual-philosophical underpinnings of Fitzgerald’s work never seem forced on the intimately known corners of nature he frequents. Rather, immanence and transcendence are reconciled as Fitzgerald looks for manifestations of an animating force. In Passing Through (2000), a meandering stream reflects a drift of clouds as the sky retains a crepuscular peach glow. The title could refer to the artist, the clouds or the day itself; gathering darkness is already shadowing the green of the fields and reducing a line of trees to a scalloped silhouette.
Fitzgerald’s paintings can be remarkably sensuous. A more extroverted image in the Main Street Gallery exhibition, Autumn Magic (2004), offers us a completely open space: a field in earthy red leads back to a horizon strip of pungent gold, all under a vibrant blue–violet sky. This intoxication with color testifies to Fitzgerald’s admiration for Titian, who teaches us how “color itself creates the form.” Any individual painter’s approach to nature will be more or less consciously mediated by inherited visual paradigms. For Fitzgerald, as for Wolf Kahn, that heritage now includes modernism and abstraction. The lack of incident, other than the transient effects of light, moves his images toward abstraction, in the Friedrich-to-Rothko line of development outlined by Robert Rosenblum in Modern Painting and the Northern Romantic Tradition. Fitzgerald comes closest to Kahn’s Fauvist color palette in Martin’s Farm (2001), which plays the sharp orange of autumnal foliage against both the crisp white of farm buildings and the lyrical purple of the sky. But Fitzgerald usually thinks in color closer to a Tonalist palette.
In the traditional landscape dynamic, air and water are the more luminous elementals in the dialogue with earth. This is an idiom Fitzgerald has worked with for several years. Chincoteague Island (2000) depicts a spit of green that ventures into the pale-blue empyrean where bay meets sky. But the artist sometimes plays with that formula. In Ocean Fields (2000), the mauve and periwinkle sky is muted and seems to pick up warmer tonalities from the burnished gold of the earth. Both images have a power consonant with the words written on the wall of Fitzgerald’s converted-barn studio: “vastness, mystery, silence, inevitability.” East End Gallery is located at 349 Commercial Street, Provincetown, Massachusetts 02657. Telephone (508) 487-4745. On the web at www.eastendgallery.com. Works by Kevin Fitzgerald are on view October 6–31 at Main Street Gallery, 109 Main Street, Annapolis, Maryland 21401. Telephone (410) 280-2787. On the web at www.mainstreetfineart.com.