Woodside artist’s work is as good as gold

By Allison Plitt

In the world of art, Woodside resident Karen Fitzgerald is something of an anomaly. Most painters prefer to work on rectangular canvases, but Fitzgerald feels more comfortable working with the tondo, an Italian Renaissance term for “round panel.”

And while, like many artists, she swathes her canvases in paints, Fitzgerald also adds a touch of gilding, in materials such as silver leaf, to her pieces. Because of their distinct shape and materials, her “oeuvres,” as she calls them, tend to stand out in a room of other artworks.

Born and raised on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, Fitzgerald grew up with an appreciation for rural life. “This connection with the natural world comes from my years of growing up surrounded by and exploring woods, fields, creeks, trails, gravel roads, gardens, our big barn, riding my pony and witnessing amazing things,” she recalls.

Fitzgerald has been interested in art since she was a child. When she was just 6 years old, she painted a still life of fruits and vegetables in a basket. And even though she lived in a remote area of Wisconsin, her high school teachers there helped her expand her horizons, laying the ground for her current career as an artist.

“In high school I had a handful of really terrific teachers, who enabled me to consider going to college to study art,” she remembers. “I was given a small studio space in the art room and several times a week I would go there to work.”

After receiving her BFA from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, she headed to New York at the age of 25, going on to receive an MFA from Hunter College and a master’s degree in education from the Teachers College at Columbia University.

Over the years, the materials and techniques she employs have varied. “Two-dimensional work resonates most strongly with me,” she says. “I work primarily in oil paint. Since 2006, I also use a great deal of gilding—most of my panels and works on paper are created by gilding the ground with a precious metal such as 23-karat gold, copper or palladium.”

At Fitzgerald’s studio in Long Island City, she has a full-size etching press where she can create prints, an activity that she says “acts like a drawing or discovery process for me.” She also teaches basic gilding, printmaking and framing workshops at the studio, as well as working with students individually. Teaching is a natural talent for Fitzgerald, who also works as a teaching artist at a local public school in Queens.

When asked about her inspirations, she, unsurprisingly, discusses the natural world. Consequently, she creates watercolors of landscapes done directly on site.

Fitzgerald also studied and wrote a lot of poetry in high school, winning a prize for some of her work. The artists who she says have had the most influence on her own artwork are poets such as Mary Ruefle, Mary Oliver, Maxine Kumin, W.S. Merwin, and Gerard Manley Hopkins.

“As I matured, my work became more poetic, utilizing aspects of the abstract language system as well as the visual language of representation,” Fitzgerald explains. “I found I needed both languages to express what I wanted to communicate.”

Running her own art studio and creating her own artwork has given Fitzgerald an enhanced sense of independence, which she concedes is her favorite part of her job. “I value my independence,” she says. “It’s very important to have a strong sense of that, to be grounded within it, as you develop and pursue your ‘voice.’”

For more information about Karen Fitzgerald, her artwork, workshops and upcoming exhibits, please visit her website www.fitzgeraldart.com.