3 Questions Digital Series

Karen Fitzgerald

An interview from Art in Embassies 3 Questions Digital Series with Karen Fitzgerald, who speaks about her creative process and artwork.

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Full Transcript

My name is Karen Fitzgerald, and I’m an artist who works with everyday materials. The idea of the Shadow series threw about after I had my little girl. And then I was looking at the shadow is part of how we pass things on, how we show up in our lives, with our children, with our family. It’s how we pass on those things from our families, whether consciously or otherwise. So that’s how it came to me. But since then, it’s kind of evolved into a greater idea of what this idea of shadow is, especially as our world has been so tumultuous over the last many years.

Just looking at how it’s playing out in our world and two pieces from the same series were chosen. So they’re both made out of expired gallery exhibition cards. So the postcard you get in gallery space, it’s so great out of photos of artwork, most of it local in the area and it’s layered in three layers.

On the surface, there’s a flat layer in which a figure has been drawn out with the cards themselves, and then a second layer of pieces that have been folded, and then a third layer of all the pieces that are at a higher elevation.

So yeah, there’s a lot of texture in these pieces, and the subject matter of that shadow in our lives is also the textured conversation. So that’s the goal in creating those pieces. And, you know, I spent some time in Kenya teaching math and science at one of the orphanages outside of Nairobi.

And so that was certainly life transforming, right? I came back from that as a completely different person than I was before. But what drew me there in the first place, I can’t really explain. Right. And there is just something about art and everything.

It’s beauty, right? It’s everything about it that draws me to it. And so it feels a little bit full circle. When I was there, I certainly had no idea why it art of all kinds. Growing up. At that point in my life, I did not know that that was what I would do for a living.

So for my art to finally end up there kind of feels special. And so my art, as activism as it is for me, it’s really out to get to. That conversation, I think is directly related to what we value and why.

So when I’m looking at discarded things, which is what I’m working with typically, right, how is that thing valuable to us or not valuable to us? Right. And with my work, because there are layered kind of structural collages, it draws people in oftentimes because they don’t recognize the material as what it is.

And that is purposeful, right. Because if you looked at it and said, oh, that’s the book, then the pause that is necessary to have that conversation isn’t really present. Right? So, for example, the last four years I’ve spent on a series of pieces made out of encyclopedias.

Right. And this material has a very distinctive smell when you take a sniff of an encyclopedia, doesn’t smell like anything else. Right. But if you’re ten years old, you have no idea what that thing is. And some of us have this lifetime of experience with encyclopedias.

And then so quickly, there are those that have no idea what they are. And so I’m taking those books and using them as a conversation about how quickly we’re making that change and what it means. Right. How is it changing us?

How do we see the world differently as a result, and what kind of world do we want to move forward into? Because a lot of the changes that are happening are happening so quickly that we haven’t really had a chance to examine them very closely.

So for me, it’s all about taking the material and having it speak to what we value and why and asking some important questions in that regard. For me, there is a very distinct difference of working with everyday stuff versus stuff.

So working with everyday stuff is really taking the boring stuff from our everyday lives, right? Things that in and of themselves we don’t forget as beautiful or even valuable. So for me, it starts with the materials that I’m working with, right?

Whether it’s a book or inspired parts, you know, whatever it is, and it’s about breaking it down. So I have to, to some degree, come to terms with how I’m going to work with it to start with, to know how I’m going to break it down.

But usually it involves a lot of cutting, and then sometimes it’s folding or crocheting or some sort of extra aspect of working with that material. And then I build it up in layers, whether it’s on a canvas or on a frame.

And then the last step is the resin, and that is what finishes the work. It kind of protects it makes it last for a lifetime or lifetimes of sleep in one. And it is a process. You know, people ask, is it painted?

Is it sprayed? It’s a it’s kind of a core process where I’m doing it with my hands on my hand and the surface of the piece. And obviously it makes the book hard and shiny. But what’s awesome about it is that it really obscures the material.  So in addition to making preserving it, it draws people in because they’re curious about what they’re looking at. So that was maybe unintentional to start with. The reason I started working with Brazil is because it protected it, right?

So I could I could show my work on frames, but now it’s really just that it draws people in to ask the questions that I’m wanting and to start that conversation. So it’s, it’s a catalyst. And so I use it.

And, you know, the reason I settled on resin because it’s a nontoxic finish. There are lots of finishes out there, but working with art materials, it seems counterintuitive to then put toxic finishes on the surface of it. So yeah, so that’s how it happens.