The Rider University Art Gallery has started its 2017 season with the exhibition “Looking,” featuring the artwork of Lawrenceville School art faculty member Allen Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick, who grew up in Princeton, will join gallery curator and artist Harry Naar for a public discussion about his paintings and photography on Thursday, February 2, at 7 p.m.
A catalog featuring an interview between the two artists-teachers provides a quick preview of what will be discussed.
Here are Fitzpatrick’s thoughts on his art, his training, and the role his father and mother — a businessman and a teacher respectively — played in his career:
The hardest part of any painting is deciding what to paint. For landscape, for me, that means a beautiful spot — harder to find in Mercer County than in Tuscany or Vermont, certainly doable. Then I look for beautiful light as it falls across and through the land. The magic hour for photography is the time right before sunrise and sunset; alas it is quite fleeting. One of the biggest challenges in plein air painting — my preference — is capturing the often fickle light or quickly moving clouds and reducing billions of bits of information into a coherent shorthand.
Still-life is easier and is constructed by me — usually with underlying formal properties, but also based on just what I enjoy eating or looking at. I do often start with a thumbnail sketch to get the light dark design down and understand the big picture first. I rarely draw on the panel, but start right in with a brush, working with one color — often burnt sienna.
My work rarely has deep hidden meaning. I don’t tread on much angst in my life; I don’t like scary or dark or violent films. It seems there is plenty of ugliness in the world, and I hope to not make more of it, or celebrate it in any way. Beauty works for me even if it is the beauty I see.
(After receiving a B.A. from Middlebury College in Vermont) I chose to attend the New York Academy as a mature, mid-career teacher. I selected it for two reasons. First, they had an academic program that fit my interests in fairly traditional styles, and second because they were teaching how to do things as much or more than why; I could study the craft of teaching and improve mine as well.
The New York Academy’s premise is that it will teach students how to draw the figure as they did in the Renaissance. By studying anatomy, origins and insertions of muscles, and the true underlying structure of the human form, artists would be able to internalize the figure after studying from live models and be able to arrange a group of figures in space from the imagination.
I spent a full year in a second year course called Figure Structure taught by a professor who flew in Fridays from Michigan. He did forensic work and studied the body after car accidents to determine cause of death. He knew the intricacies of joint mechanics and he taught them quite well. We also made an ecorche (a flayed figure) in plasticine. First we made the bones of the skeleton as a 24 inch model, then on one half we applied each muscle in order to understand its length, and its relationship to the bones and to each other.
All of this specific instruction was outstanding, and it also allowed me to study how information is best transferred from teacher to student. I felt quite lucky to be one of the oldest students in the class because I understood the teaching process, so I was getting double the value since I was learning about both making art and about the craft of good teaching.
Second-year students were required to finish with a diploma project. Typically this involved the figure. My advisor, Vincent Desiderio, who knew I was far more interested in landscape than in the figure, encouraged me to pursue my interests. I was the rare exception who studied cloud formations and painted a large (for me anyway) studio landscape based on a scene I saw in Siena when I travelled there to paint. It was a great experience to paint the landscape in the studio and to involve myself in the research and studies. I prefer plein air painting; studio work is very hard to keep fresh.
My parents were always supportive of anything I did as long as it was healthy and productive. I played a ton of sports on my own and on organized youth teams and took any classes I wanted in high school.
They never pushed me in one direction or another, but instead allowed me to explore and wander. My dad taught me curiosity, and that has always served me well. I try to encourage the same in my students today.
Looking, Rider University Art Gallery, Bart Luedeke Center, 2038 Lawrenceville Road, Lawrenceville. Through Sunday, February 26, Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. Artist’s talk Thursday, February 2, 7 p.m. Free. www.rider.edu/arts.