One more month to see the Fitzsimmons exhibit at the MVCA

by Carly Proulx

On Saturday, March 26, new MVCA Director Mary Ellen McGillan featured the work of John Fitzsimmons, a Syracuse-based artist who has painted and exhibited his work internationally for over twenty years. The show consisted of 12 figurative oil paintings and 9 etchings, a body of work that filled the room with bright light and dark shadows, a range of restless tones and a variety of colors ranging from yellows-greens vibrant to marigold, from deep reds to skin tones.

Growing up in upstate New York, John Fitzsimmons developed a fondness for “the harsh, low, heavy forms of winter over which the light has to find its way”. This affection becomes evident when one stands in the gallery with his paintings. Fitzsimmons’ technique of incision and cross-hatching to model the shapes gives a truly iconic effect. Altering edges and adding detail as he went, Fitzsimmons leaves behind a cohesive body of work both technically and aesthetically, but with each painting demanding its own reverence. “When I work on a painting, a lot of the time I spend is reducing, simplifying the shape and color until the painting starts to feel good. Sometimes these paintings take a long time, sometimes months .

The canvases are life-size compositions where we see Fitzsimmons’ interest oscillating between painting the individual figure and groups of figures. An eye-catching panoramic view is a painting of multiple figures of the same woman, all loosely wrapped in red drapery standing barefoot in the grass. Equally striking is the tonal antithesis where two standing figures of the same model, dressed in red, project a warm light into the darkness. The most peaceful painting, a horizontal nude of a blonde woman lying on her side, hangs on the far wall. Peaceful perhaps, but the tension still lurks behind her lids as if to signify that even in her sleep, this woman’s work wasn’t nearly done. Another woman stands outside next to a tree, their shadows talking to each other. The woman’s gaze is tilted downward, the window of her eye expression closed. Conversely, the viewer is stopped in their tracks after encountering two green eyes peering into a red cape. A black-haired woman, nestled against a gray background in the painting titled “Then and Never” is most captivating, but what lies behind this woman’s gaze remains a mystery.

Ambiguity is a big part of the theme. The exploration of both the artist’s action during the creation of the work and the viewer’s search for meaning is perhaps one and the same journey. “When I paint, I dig, I look for a kernel, a seed, an essence that is there; I just need to find it. What remains after digging is not a single thing. It is left open to interpretation.

Fitzsimmons offers us a different perspective with his prints. Inked and unlit, these prints seduce in a different way, the mood rendered being darker. Fitzsimmons’ emotional state when creating his work might be subconscious, a way to transcend the plight of this world, but luckily for the viewer, the end result isn’t quite so subtle. He informs that his art is “unspeakable”, or rather that these images concern more “what is not said”.

The small description Fitzsimmons describes of his work is most accurately depicted in the two side-by-side vertical paintings of a buxom red-haired woman. He says that many of his works deal with a “conflicting dual nature, disputes with himself, right brain versus left brain, ideals versus pragmatism”. On the right, she appears lost in thought and her hand is over her heart. Is she about to surrender? And on the left, his gaze is forward, his foot steady. Is she empowered?

This show nudges and nudges the structures of our emotional lives, reminding us of what it’s like to be here, to feel things for which we don’t always have a name or a personal connection; scratching, sometimes uncomfortably beyond the surface to reveal that something unknown, that great mystery that connects us to each other, and continuing to make that discovery. See this work and let yourself feel what you will feel, indescribable or not.

“Current Circumstances” by John Fitzsimmons is in the 401 Gallery. You can visit the exhibit during regular hours until May 28, 2022: Thursday through Saturday, 12 p.m. to 4 p.m., or call 315-823-0808 for an appointment. For more information, visit mohawkvalleyarts.org.

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