Patrick Michael Fitzgerald: Nomadic Forms 

David Rhodes

A consequence of movement must involve arriving and departing in an exchange of one place or context for another, and this also includes the possibility of returning, it is an ongoing transference of multiple kinds— geographic, emotional, intellectual, physical. And, in doing so finding, in one language or another, what may not be clear without such risk and inevitable dislocation. Patrick Michael Fitzgerald is an artist who is always directly engaged with the language of painting in all its contingency, mutability and possibility, aiming to find over time the finished work, with, and so through, this language. Painting can offer an alternative to what Antonio Machado (1) referred to as the abyss between words and meaning. Rather than beginning with an a priori end in view—a desired and anticipated image or that to be signified, the question only of how to achieve it remaining—the opposite course is taken. How the painting will eventually look, of what colour, form or surface it will comprise—is to be determined, after the necessary duration of a complex, unpredictable process of work. The degree to which the painting is considered abstract or figurative is of no real consequence. This can be seen in the relations that occur within the painting, dissemblance and resemblance play their part. A space, or multiple spaces or a surface or multiple surfaces, natural or architectural, exist reflectively between say a remembered landscape and the field of the painting: a field both rural and pictorial. Also, and simultaneously, different states of mind and bodily sensation can be intuited— neither a structuralist nor metaphysical view can account for this. As it is in music, poetry, and it has been argued, architecture, painting is where the incompatible and categorically apart can coexist and interchange, in a passage of correspondences as well as felt and concrete experience. The experiential then, as well as the not yet conscious are caught in the artist’s process, and so all the senses, not only the obvious one, vision, are present and participate. Rejecting an abstract rationalism limited by concepts to approach things as themselves, in preference to “intuition”, is in the tradition of Henri Bergson’s (2) thought.

A clear humility is evident in Fitzgerald’s approach in the syncretic disposition of material: recollection and invention accumulate, always remaining inclusive of minor everyday detail encountered, and oftentimes, for most of us, overlooked. A small sensation or an apparently minor thing seen in passing, are as likely to be significant for his painting process as any great work of art, poetry or philosophy. Paintings are reworked, different materials are added and combined— on occasion this will be found material, studio detritus, elements of collage, old abandoned paintings—nothing is ignored. Like the soundscape of a Robert Bresson (3) film: suddenly what may easily be filtered out is present and active, in Fitzgerald’s case it is texture, shape or colour that remain and are now recontextualized and alive within the painting. Fitzgerald is well aware of Phenomenology in respect to art and architecture. He shares the conviction that an exclusively empirical or metaphysical investigation of reality is, simply put, inadequate and has been for some time—further investigations into how meaning is generated in the first place continues in different fields. Given the understandable skepticism about object/subject duality together with doubts about the efficacy of verbal or spoken language—brought to attention by Ludwig Wittgenstein (4) — we must investigate for ourselves to find poetic and ethical positions, however contingent they are going to be.

In a text that is important to Fitzgerald’s thinking, the Finnish architect Juhani Pallasmaa’s The Eyes of the Skin (1996) asks the question—why has it been that of five senses sight is the one that has predominated in architectural thinking? Together with other architects, Pallasmaa explored an architectural phenomenology, directing Merleau-Ponty’s writings toward the experience of spatial sequence, materiality, and tactility. He was concerned at the exclusion of “sensory and sensual qualities” from architectural thinking. Surface qualities in painting together with all the other senses, are crucial for Fitzgerald: haptic awareness, part of the phenomenological experience, informs, and mobilizes together with vision the intuitionism of encounter with a painting. It is sensorial and sensual, analytical and reflective. Jacques Derrida’s book on his friend the philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy Le toucher, (2000) in English, On Touching, describes the extraordinary role touch plays in our experience and expression of the world, it is another example of how vision overrides our other senses, and how our capacity to experience is blunted.

Fitzgerald’s paintings can recall Matisse’s Nice paintings from the 1920s, often misunderstood, they integrate the discoveries of more assertively experimental and austere works from the previous decade, along with the Fauvist paintings before those, and have some affinity with Pierre Bonnard’s or Edouard Vuillard’s rendering of interior/exterior paintings. And, with good reason. The hybridity here is not a quality desired as a subject in and of itself, but rather, as an openness to pushing the immanent, medial limits of painting as a subject.

Within the hybridity, layering—that accretion inherent in time—is in Fitzgerald’s painting, non- linear, mutable, reversible. Colour can accumulate gradually or suddenly. As paintings are worked on concurrently, it is usual that several paintings are in various states of completion; individual works are often paused, the time now spent looking and being with the paintings, only later returning to continue with them. Configurations appear or disappear, always coming into being, or departing, areas and marks erased, hidden or altered under a glaze, wash or opaque covering of paint. For the Greeks before Socrates nature was Physis, meaning “to grow” or “to appear” the word has no cognate in English, though an emphasis might be “development” or “process” and humans were not separate from this when looking at nature.

The space in Fitzgerald’s paintings tends to be relatively shallow, within a more or less frontal composition. Recently, they have become lighter in tone, with a more transparent application of paint, and the linen or canvas support has remained visible in places. Much of the painting is stained or marked with colour pencil and not built up as much as in previous paintings. Take for example, Lifting (2020) (p.23), where islands of negative shape, large perforations in a field of thin pale green, partially expose dark, drawn umber lines and an implied inverted triangle. The top edge of the light green field forms a horizon line with above it unpainted linen. As with all of Fitzgerald’s paintings, each displacement of form or adjustment of line modifies the conception without the possibility of a definitive statement, and not for the first time Raoul De Keyser comes to mind, a kindred spirit for Fitzgerald. De Keyser is another artist who eschews the usual mutual exclusion of Taschisme, Art Informel and Post-Painterly abstraction for something beyond the historiographical categories of purist Modernism and Post-modernism. The tableaux, that French conceptualization of the picture pertains here—a place where events happen, things are placed, relationships exist. A profound distrust of systematic abstraction is clear.

The issue of what is represented in a painting such as Huida (flight) (2021) (p.17) corresponds to both a notion of seascape, and a void. Its internal scale, within the shape of the pictorial rectangle is emphatic, as is equally its constituent relation to the viewer, and other things in the world, as an object—albeit a deliberately ambiguous and far from specific, object. Baratze – Miles D. (2021) (p.5) features a partial field of heterogeneous dabs, spills and marks over raw canvas or stained patches of earth colour. An orange line, and a green diagonal, torque pictorial space. A graphite zigzag along the canvas’ right edge, and another graphite line trailing and splitting, are in contrast to the orange horizontal line. This presence of drawn lines is exciting, their rightness and incongruity within painterly dabs, surprising. ERTZ – thorn (2021) (p.13) displays an entirely other ambiguity: red, pink and orange stains bounded on some sides by exposed linen are drawn over with a blue pencil line that echoes the common borders. A precise, white and narrow vertical line and a dark blue triangle in the top right corner, evade any representational hermeneutic. Corpus II (2021) (p.9) is another work that resists categories of painting. The fracturing and opening up of subject and painterly space to unspecified zones are both frontal and topographic, it is for the viewer to orient. Many detours, still active, are there in the material practice of the brush. It presses; covering or revealing what is underneath. Loaded with blue, white or violet, its movement is the jagged borders of the almost mirrored form that ‘touches’ the paintings left edge, hovering above an almost central red line.

Over years paintings like these, so different from each other can be seen to crystalize into groups as motifs and methods reoccur and each group contrasts with the next. With these new paintings this process is still in flux, the family of particular paintings yet to settle. The changes are gradual and unforeseen as possibilities are pursued— rather than deconstructed—though that is not to say there are no moments of destruction, or fragmenting. Problems present, and opportunities appear, if there is a narrative it is this: a physical, material, emotional, and conceptual condensation through painting of life lived. It is ongoing and assertively inconclusive as there is no end point to the enquiry, only more exploration and finding.

1) Antonio Machado (1875-1939) was a poet with a deep appreciation of phenomenology, he attended one of Henri Bergson’s last lectures in Paris, an event that helped the poet form his own aesthetic. Machado quoted in the introduction to Antonio Machado, Selected Poems, translated by Alan S. Trueblood, Harvard University Press (1982)

2) Henri Bergson (1859-1941) stressed the importance of immediate experience and intuition over rationalism. His 1927 book Matter and Memory was significant in the development of continental philosophy. Henri Matisse (1869-1954) was very interested in Bergson’s ideas.

3) Robert Bresson (1901-1999) reduced musical scoring in favour of natural sound, thus heightening sounds textural presence in relation to vision.

4) Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) profoundly important for the epistemology of language—its limits and function.

© David Rhodes, 2021

This essay was written by David Rhodes for the catalogue of the exhibition Nomadic Forms, in Palacio Horcasitas, Balmaseda, Bizkaia, Spain. October 2021.

ISBN: 978-84-920450-3-7


An Essay written by Chris Ashley for the Exhibition at Some Walls in Oakland California, October-November, 2010

But shadow enlivened by atoms of sunlight
Constantly crisscrossed by sleepless flies.

Mute Objects of Expression by French poet and essayist, 

Francis Ponge (1899 – 1988) 

Ponge’s lines, to which artist Patrick Michael Fitzgerald has referred[1], describe and evoke the buzzing and movement of tiny and microscopic objects-shadow energized by and contrasting with almost imperceptible light, the random flight paths of non-stop insects that effortlessly draw a grid in the air without plan, the color and atmosphere of a designated space and the activity within it-and begin with a “But” that acts as a contradiction, an “instead of,” a proposal that the objects in our world, even the smallest ones, are not inconsequential. These objects and their changing, dynamic qualities matter even without our attention or presence, and can be seen and experienced if one is attentive and patient. The world around us, which we often think of as still, a theater turned off when we aren’t looking, is instead constantly in motion at the smallest and least tangible level.

Ponge is associated with phenomenology, the philosophical movement founded by Edmund Husserl in Germany in the early 20th century. Simply, phenomenology is a philosophical method for the objective study of topics typically regarded as subjective: consciousness and the content of conscious experiences such as perceptions, emotions, and judgments. Although it seeks to be scientific, phenomenology does not study consciousness from the perspective of clinical psychology or neurology, but rather, through systematic reflection, to determine the essential properties and structures of consciousness and conscious experience. Ponge’s poem attempts to bring a heightened conscious sensitivity and awareness to the phenomena of nature: light, living things, motion, sight, and perception.

Fitzgerald’s art provides for the viewer a visual experience roughly parallel to Ponge’s written example. His attunement to visual phenomena in his and our environment-phenomena in the natural, constructed, social, and political world that we inhabit and navigate over time incidentally and accidentally, circumstantially and intentionally, in isolation and repetitively, whether consciously or not-is filtered through and presented via the primary and elemental handmade language of drawing and painting: line, shape, color, surface, gesture, layers, cuts, and collage. His response to nature is not merely filtered through selection, reduction, abstraction, or interpretation, but is instead the living and breathing experience of seeing, acknowledging, using, and reusing, an experience that is nuanced and complicated, human and murky. The artist’s process requires immersion, reflection, dissection, isolation, reorganization, multiplication, expansion, repetition, variation, compression, and iteration. Fitzgerald’s art is the result of this non-linear process, and his observation, making, and presentation-perception, emotion, and judgment-ultimately provide for us flat, rectangular wall-hung objects on the surface of which are organized rich and intricate, earned and determined images. Our job-a function and a privilege of our sighted, conscious, and discerning existence-is first to objectively discover, confront, and engage with Fitzgerald’s visual objects in an attempt to know his subjective presentation, and to then attempt to know our own subjective experience. Through systematic observation and reflection we determine first the essential physical properties and structures in Fitzgerald’s art, and secondly to hypothesize, reflect on, and confirm the artist’s and our consciousness and conscious experience. Ultimately, our objective contemplation of the subjective painted object makes us aware of our subjective experience, and more aware of the world in which we live.

Fitzgerald’s images combine several image-making methods in single works, an approach that might sound premeditated, procedural, layered, and dense but instead results in sensitive, intuitive, highly-conscious, and coherent images. Our experience of these layers requires observation and cognition-the process of thought. For example, in his small painting Peso (verde), 2010, three different pictorial approaches are combined and integrated. First, across the background surface a field of dabs and dribbles is obscured by the foggy atomized cloud of white spray paint, on top of which a brushed green tree-like shape or figure reaches from the top to nearly the bottom. Adjacent to the left is collaged a strip of red-stained fabric. The foggy field is achieved via a mechanical process that applies paint without touching the surface and reads as recessive, while the green figure is gestural, drawn, and constructed by touching the surface on which it sits. The red fabric anchors or stabilizes the green figure, and is a real thing that reminds us that the painting is a physical object. In a strange way this red fabric, nubby and frayed along its top edge, counter-intuitively connects and mediates the two other painted areas.

Another example of Fitzgerald’s approach and process is the drawing Spine (blue & red), also 2010. In this drawing scribbled gestural lines are between and on top of ruled lines, while areas of white paper contrast with colored areas; these areas are the actual drawn aspect here. But there are two more forms of drawing, each of which in turn have two facets. First, two kinds of cutting, which are really kinds of drawing, take place in Fitzgerald’s work: precise cuts into and through the paper, analogous to the ruled lines, create shaped negative or see-through areas, while pieces of more freehand-cut paper from existing drawings are collaged into the drawn field. Secondly, there are two kinds of collage: the cut fragments of drawings just mentioned, and found objects applied to the surface, in this case one end or handle of a paper fan, a real thing as opposed to a drawn thing, placed vertically in the middle top part of the entire drawing, and which itself contains see-through cuts in a scroll pattern. Like phenomenologists, through objective observation we gain insight into the factual aspects of Fitzgerald’s processes and products, which leads us to the possibility of assessing subjective aspects such as the artist’s motivation, desires, and decisions, and finally, with reflection, to the content of conscious experiences such as perceptions, emotions, and judgments.

Recently a great deal of excellent and helpful writing about Fitzgerald’s art has been published which examines and explains the physical, aesthetic, and conceptual properties of his work, while also relating and reflecting the heightened conscious experience his paintings and drawings make possible. This writing is not only helpful in describing and gaining insight into Fitzgerald’s work, but is also particularly useful here for briefly conveying various approaches to thinking about his paintings and drawings, and for surveying the growing consensus of experience and opinion coalescing around his art.

In a recent catalog essay Frank Lubbers, a curator and writer based in Brussels, notes Fitzgerald’s associative imagery, and perhaps the artist’s sources, saying, “There is some reminiscence of flowers, flowering trees, branches and twigs, either in spring, autumn or winter. His titles may give a hint, like Jardín (Garden) or Tree. In other works there might be a kind of untidy, but beautifully structured grid or wire mesh laid over the painting, in which oddly shaped forms are hung, like laundry, drying on a line. It can seem as if the wind took some nicely coloured irregularly torn rags and blew them into a rusty fence[2]”

London-based artist, critic, and curator Sherman Sam introduces the notion of Masanobu Fukuoka’s idea of farming, which suggests, “how to not do too much, in fact how not to do anything at all, and, instead, work with nature. Hence no fertilizer, no ploughing, no herbicides, no insecticide”. Connecting this to the idea that Fitzgerald’s art has an organic, integrated, and human basis, Sam continues, “Patrick Michael Fitzgerald, as an artist, really is a farmer. What is it to say that an artist is farmer? I mean he grows art; it is organic produce. Art today does not seem to be grown; it is manufactured, produced, industrially fabricated, even battery farmed in a few instances. Who grows art any longer? Just a small handful[3].”

Finally, New York poet, critic, and curator John Yau explicitly identifies the role of specific and homespun visual characteristics and qualities found in works in Fitzgerald’s 2010 exhibition at Guest Room in Brussels when he writes, “Using a vocabulary that consists of a few vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines (a skeletal geometry) juxtaposed against ragged and rounded shapes, and perfectly cut, collaged circles, and pristine cut-out spaces, Fitzgerald responds to something palpable in the world. The often-layered space, while alluding to nature, also conveys drawing as an accumulation of decisions, as well as a visual indication of time past. One both sees and sees into these drawings, with the layering reiterated by the use of collage in the form of the perfectly round circles.” Yau concludes that, “Fitzgerald’s vocabulary is basic-there is nothing elaborate or stylish about his lines and circles, rough and ragged shapes. He relies on colored pencils, ink, and collage-nothing fancy. And yet-and this is why Fitzgerald seems to me to be on the verge of becoming an important and singular artist-the work comes across as taut and fresh, brimming with an awareness that the act of seeing is a construction, at once fluid and disrupted.”

Patrick Michael Fitzgerald’s art is rich and complicated, yet accessible and based in perception and feeling. As Lubbers says, “The real great capacity of a painter is… to amaze us. This surprise is mostly in the imaginative, unusual and unexpected angle from which the painter sees reality, and by which he provides us with a fresh and unexpected look at the world around us[5].”

Chris Ashley
Oakland, CA
October 2010

[1] Fitzgerald, Patrick Michael. Crisscrossed. Le Roseau Pensant (blog). March 22, 2010.
[2] Lubbers, Frank. Patrick Michael Fitzgerald: A world of paint. Paintings and drawings by Patrick Michael Fitzgerald. Rubicon Gallery, Dublin, June 2010.
[3] Sam, Sherman. Farming drawing: Patrick Michael Fitzgerald. Guest Room/Contemporary Art, Brussels. 2010.
[4] Yau, John. Patrick Michael Fitzgerald Drawings. Brooklyn Rail. 2010.
[5] Ibid.

© Chris Ashley, 2010

Patrick Michael Fitzgerald: A world of paint

by Frank Lubbers

When looking at paintings, particularly new ones, those yet undiscovered canvases that one has never seen before, there is always a temptation to look for similarities with works one already knows. Perhaps we are looking for safe ground; but how unfair that is and, in a sense, how lazy. On the other hand, looking with fresh and unbiased eyes, as if painting had just been invented in front of us, is extremely difficult, if not impossible. This is because one has to erase, or at least postpone for the time being, everything one knows about painting and its history as well. Nevertheless, trying to navigate between the Scylla of the similarities, and the Charibdis of the tabula rasa is what I am going to attempt to do here. I am going to try to paint the paintings again, but this time in words. Or, to cite the American writer Henry James, in relation to the work of John Singer Sargent: “It is true that what the verbal artist would like to do would be to find out the secret of the pictorial, to drink at the same fountain” (1). 

What exactly do we see when we are looking at a painting? What do we expect of a painting? When looking at the paintings of Patrick Michael Fitzgerald, what is happening in front of our eyes? One might call his paintings abstract, but that is not saying very much, as in fact every painting is abstract, in the sense that it consists of lines and directions and shapes in all kinds of different forms and colours, and textures and rhythms, and repetitions and what have you. It is sometimes said that abstract art does not represent anything: but when it does not represent anything, how on earth can it be something? At least it must represent some idea… Then again, as the painter Maurice Denis wrote, as early as in 1890: “Remember that a painting, before being a battle horse, a naked woman or some anecdote, is essentially a flat surface covered with colours in a certain assembled order” (my translation) (2). 

Fitzgerald’s art inhabits the wonderful no-man’s-land between abstraction and representation, where painting is able to show its most forceful characteristics. Or, as Roberta Smith put it in a recent article: “The Modernist insistence on the separation of representation and abstraction robbed painting of essential vitality. […] As for representation and abstraction, historically and perceptually they have usually been inseparable. […] Paintings – like all art – tend to hold our attention through their abstract, or formal, energy. But even abstract paintings have representational qualities; the human brain cannot help but impart meaning to form.” (3) One only has to think of the strong imaginative impact of the well-known Rorschach tests in order to see the truth of this. 

Some of Fitzgerald’s paintings look like collages, as if they consist of torn pieces of coloured paper, or some multicoloured blobs. Others seem to be inspired by, or actually depict foliage. He uses bright colours versus dull colours. He applies the paint in thin layers making almost-glazed surfaces, and then all of a sudden switches to thick impasto, so that it looks as if slabs of paint are glued onto the support. Other surfaces show a wax-like velvety quality, seducing us to caress them. Sometimes his paintings are highly complicated, and others extremely simple. There is some reminiscence of flowers, flowering trees, branches and twigs, either in spring, autumn or winter. His titles may give a hint, like Jardín (Garden) or Tree. In other works there might be a kind of untidy, but beautifully structured grid or wire mesh laid over the painting, in which oddly shaped forms are hung, like laundry, drying on a line. It can seem as if the wind took some nicely coloured irregularly torn rags and blew them into a rusty fence. Fitzgerald’s paintings look flat, extending only in two directions on the surface. But although most paintings want to stay what they are: two-dimensional, we can also find ones that have a minute, shallow depth, which gives the impression of three or four transparent paintings being hung in front of each other, reinforcing each other (mostly in the Territories series). Some of his paintings made in this way look like palimpsests, painting after painting laid over one another on the same surface. In Idle Time II the three-dimensionality is not suggested, not a painterly illusion: no, it is real. The painting has become a box into which we can look, and where shadows play the part of, or pretend to be, colours.      

A smudged painting generally means a failed painting. Not so with Fitzgerald. He manages to make smudge into a fine quality by just adding some precise forms on top of the smudge, like circles in bright colours, some definite dots, or a clear line. His use of colour is absolutely cheeky and unpredictable. We can see tonal paintings, with just a few hues in some muddy earth colours (for example in Tilt and Beach). The holes, seemingly drilled at random in the panel, are more like coloured dots than real openings or gaps, reminding us, of course, of Lucio Fontana, the master of the hole in the canvas. On the other hand Fitzgerald dares to use the most blatant primary colours squeezed right out of the tube (Spine).
Portraits can, in a sense, be found too: for example in Nidus, which looks like a balloon-formed face that is extending itself and protruding into the painting, as if it were some virus, slowly taking over the surface. In Carnival a greenish-grey grid is covered with happily shaped banners in flying colours. When gestural marks appear, appears, they are simply outright beautiful (Oker III), and there are also some taut, but highly effective, crosshatchings here and there, especially in his colour pencil drawings. 

Patrick Michael Fitzgerald’s work has been compared with that of several American painters, including Ellsworth Kelly and Clyfford Still (4). I can agree to a certain likeness with Kelly, as far as his European period is concerned, but if there is a resemblance with historical precursors, I would prefer to mention Paul Sérusier, a French symbolist of the end of the 19th, beginning of the 20th century (5). This comparison stands to Sérusier’s abstract works like Talisman, but also to more representational ones such as Breton Eve or Melancholy. 

Fitzgerald’s paintings are, I believe, closer to the symbolism of the Nabis, to whom Bonnard belonged (one of the artist’s favourites), and the Cloissonism or Synthetism of the painters of Pont Aven in French Brittany, than to 20th century colour field painting, as some critics would have it. There is not only a formal likeness, but also a certain shared sensitivity and poetry with the Nabis at work here. There is also a temptation to mention the painters of the École de Paris, especially Jean Bazaine and Serge Poliakoff, and to a lesser extent Roger Bissière and Alfred Manessier. Deep down Fitzgerald is an entirely European artist, firmly rooted in mostly French painting of the 19th and 20th century. And if there is a semblance with American painting, it is strongly mediated through these European influences. 

I mentioned poetry: Fitzgerald is fond of the work of the, lesser known 20th century French poet, Francis Ponge. And indeed, the artist’s work bears a close resemblance to Ponge’s poetry. They both admire the humble but meaningful world of things. Some of Ponge’s epic poems could easily be descriptions of Fitzgerald’s paintings. Take for example Bread:

The crust on a loaf of French bread is a marvel, first off, because of the almost panoramic impression it gives, as although one had the Alps, the Taurus range, or even the Andean Cordillera right in the palm of the hand. In that light, an amorphous belching mass was slipped into the stellar oven on our behalf, and there while hardening, it moulded into valleys, ridges, foothills, rifts… And from then on, all those clearly articulated planes, all the wafer-thin slabs where light takes care to bank its rays – without a thought for the disgraceful mush beneath the surface. That cold soggy substratum, the doughy innards, consists of a sponge-like tissue; there flowers, leaves are fused together at every bend like Siamese twins. When the bread grows stale, the flowers wither and shrink, they come apart from one another and the whole thing goes to crumbs. But let’s cut short here. For bread should be mouthed less as an object of respect than of consumption (6).

In order to explain the discriminate relationships between his own works Fitzgerald borrows a term coined by the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein: family resemblances (7). Things may be thought to be connected by one essential common feature, but in fact are connected by a series of overlapping similarities, where no one single feature is common to all. For Fitzgerald, family resemblances are to be found in groups of paintings dealing with the same subject matter (if one might describe it thus). The Lattice or Mesh paintings, that are characterised by a kind of network, have been given the family name Territories. And there is also the family: Spine; the Spine works resemble the Tree works in that a sort of spinal cord or branch-like form runs vertically across the paintings. 

In addition to colour, form plays an important role in the organisation of a painting. Fitzgerald gives special attention to the problems of form: “There will always be an irresolvable tension between the different forms in a painting; surface as form, support as form, figure and ground as form, colour as form etc… all jostling and in conflict with each other. And the speculative politics that might arise from this conflict is one of limits; limits which will define territories within which one can act with the greatest of liberty” (8).   

It may be true that the Kantian “thing in itself” (das Ding an sich) is, in the end, unknowable; but, by means of scientific and artistic practices, we enable ourselves to approach it as closely as we can. Painting departs from the, not necessarily naïve, realistic, Johnsonian presupposition (9), that there exists an outside world, independent of our own existence and senses, about which we can talk and think on a shared level and can acquire knowledge of. Thus painting, however non-representational or abstract it may be, is always about something, although it’s not always easy to explain what that something is. It may directly refer to, or represent, some material aspect, or facet of, the outside world, or it may epitomize some idea about the world, the psychological state of mind of the painter, or his (10) relationship to reality itself.         

In a sense, an artist on the one hand gives us an image of the inside of his head, and on the other hand offers us an interpretation of the world outside. The world of things with its innumerable relationships in three dimensions, its countless number of forms and shapes, and its endless range of colours and hues, is an indispensable resource for the painter. Translating this world of things into his own language is the painter’s task. But apart from its relation or response to an outside world of things, a painting has also a relation to each of its precursors. The outside world may be a source of inspiration, but it’s the preceding work that leads the way to the next one. The awareness of this mechanism is an important condition for a coherent oeuvre. Fitzgerald’s work shows an acute awareness of these essential prerequisites for noteworthy painting, and in a conversation with the painter Chris Ashley, he remarks: “I still believe that painting can respond directly to the world of things, experience, and ‘reality’ on its own terms”. In the same conversation he also adds “I prefer my work to lead me, so I try and feel where it might be going and let it flow that way” (11). 

In the end all painting, however new or unfamiliar it may appear, is rooted in history and can be traced back to some predecessor, even without the painter realising or knowing from what source he is drawing. The real great capacity of a painter is thus not to be new or original, but to amaze us. This surprise is mostly in the imaginative, unusual and unexpected angle from which the painter sees reality, and by which he provides us with a fresh and unexpected look at the world around us.


1) A wish he expressed in 1889. Cited in Sargent’s Venice by Richard Ormond and Warren Adelson, Yale University Press, 2006, p. 142.

2) Definition of Neo-Traditionalisme, published for the first time in the Revue Art et Critique, 30 August 1890. Original text: “Se rappeler qu’un tableau, avant d’être un cheval de bataille, une femme nue ou une quelconque anecdote, est essentiellement une surface plane recouverte de couleurs en un certain ordre assemblées.

3) Roberta Smith, The International Herald Tribune March 27-28 2010

4) Enrique Juncosa, The Voice of Things, published in “Patrick Michael Fitzgerald, Paintings & Drawings”, 2007, Ayuntamiento de Pamplona & Centre Culturel Irlandais

5) Paul Sérusier, French symbolist painter (1863-1927)

6) Translated by Lee Fahnestock, from The Nature of Things (Le parti pris des choses), Red Dust Books Inc. NY, 1995

7) Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Malden USA, 1953, § 65 – § 71

8) Quote from Patrick Michael Fitzgerald’s blog Le roseau pensant, July 2008, The question of form.

9) A quote from James Boswell’s The Life of Dr. Samuel Johnson: “After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley’s ingenious sophistry to prove the non-existence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it – ‘I refute it thus’”.

10) Nouns in English do not have grammatical gender and as this article is about a male painter, I prefer the male form of the pronoun. But feel free to fill in the female form if you find it more appropriate.

11) Interview by e-mail December 2008 - April 2009

Frank Lubbers studied painting at the State Academy of Fine Arts in Amsterdam and philosophy at the Municipal University of Amsterdam. After having worked for a decade as a painter and art teacher, he became a curator. He has been curating for the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and worked as a chief curator and deputy director for the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven. Presently he is a freelance curator, art adviser and writer, based in Brussels.

© Frank Lubbers 2010

This text was written for the publication Paintings and drawings by Patrick Michael Fitzgerald, published by Rubicon Gallery, Dublin, June 2010. (ISBN: 978-0-9554084-9-6)

Farming drawing: Patrick Michael Fitzgerald

by Sherman Sam

“Even though it is the same quarter acre, the farmer must grow his crops differently each year in accordance with variations in weather, insect populations, the condition of the soil, and many other natural factors. Nature is everywhere in perpetual motion, conditions are never exactly the same in any two years. Modern research divides nature into tiny pieces and conducts tests that conform neither with natural law nor with practical experience…To think that these conclusions can be put to use with invariable success in the farmer’s field is a big mistake.” 1

Masanobu Fukuoka

A Portuguese friend of mine, the painter Manuel Casal Aguiar frequently describes himself as a farmer. He does live on a small farm, and often lives of its produce, but this term “farmer” really refers to his attitude as a painter. Manuel is being a bit disingenuous, in that he is being humble rather than descriptively accurate. Patrick Michael Fitzgerald, as an artist, really is a farmer. What is it to say that an artist is farmer? I mean he grows art; it is organic produce. Art today does not seem to be grown; it is manufactured, produced, industrially fabricated, even battery farmed in a few instances. Who grows art any longer? Just a small handful. And their allotments are called “studios”, or, for the less workmanly, “homes”.

I think it is obvious what I mean about an artist who is a farmer, but in Fitzgerald’s case it is even more so given the appearance of more “natural” imagery recently. His earlier paintings possessed a more opaque and concrete quality; the shallow visual depth and rectilinear composition created a feeling of a compressed space, with the odd eccentric dash or hole across its surface as punctuation; the result being stoic and “withdrawn”. Here a point of relation might be found in the monochromatic structures of Robert Ryman, but also in the American’s experimental and investigative procedures. Despite this description, a trait that is consistent throughout his work is a sense of “openness”.

Since his residency at the Albers Foundation in Connecticut (2004), a different kind of imagery has emerged. Let’s say that it’s evocative of nature: forest-like, falling leaves-like, gravelled surface-like, floating island-like, tree-like, cluster-like. Nature in the past was hinted at in the sense of landscape, now it’s far more palpable in the work itself. Of this period he says:

“I was looking for a much greater variety of form than before. I became fascinated by tree-like forms interrupted by architectural elements… the synthetic quality was also very important, for this reason I emphasized the paper as support by positioning the main image off centre and so leaving a border or frame of blank paper on two sides. This seems to negate the inherent illusionistic space tendency.” 2

The architecture of white borders is no longer present; instead a few ruled diagonal lines have appeared here and there as compositional elements. A hardness to counter the organic perhaps, also there are crisp, collaged circles scattered all over. These two elements also provide a counterpoint to the scumbley, scribbley gestures that form clumps floating in space or clotting to a midpoint. Probably the most distinct trait of his recent drawings is a sense of massing, as if clumps of form were being drawn (no pun) together. Lines, circles, organic blobs, all cluster and hold towards a central vein, as if it were a close up of a bushy tree or some kind of organic fauna.

Take note that I am not making the case for Fitzgerald being a landscape or nature artist, rather I believe that he is growing things. All art has a nature, and in the case of drawing, it is line, form, shading, and so on, even filling in shapes as we did in colouring books when we were children. For the more adventurous, it includes collage, decoupage, and even just cutting holes and chopping bits off. Really, drawing is quite a simple act, maybe even primitive. We romanticise its purity and directness, but it is most like thinking. Today, there are museums or kunsthalles for drawings, but rather than drawing’s nature, they seem more interested in the expanded idea of drawing. Hence we have wall drawing, drawing as narrative (i.e. video), drawing as language (i.e. writing), even drawing as methodical, time-consuming process (i.e. industry). Fitzgerald instead offers drawing as true to nature and by definition; drawing which is true to itself. It is as simple as Masanobu Fukuoka’s idea of farming, how to not do too much, in fact how not to do anything at all, and, instead, work with nature. Hence no fertilizer, no ploughing, no herbicides, no insecticides:
“To get an idea of the perfection and abundance of nature,” Fukuoka says, “take a walk into the forest sometime. There, the animals, tall trees and shrubs are living together in harmony. All of this came about without benefit of human ingenuity or intervention.” 3

Look closely at his work and you see just that, nature, “drawing nature” – not drawing nature or nature drawing; but drawing’s nature. In philosophy we could say that we are speaking of ontology, and in the past I have thought that this was part of his thinking, now I am not so sure. I think the reality of his approach is far more organic. Pollock once said, “I am nature”. In some ways Fitzgerald is closer than Pollock, nature is not just catastrophic or explosive, it is daily, everywhere, all the time, even when man-made. Ultimately everything in the world comes from the world, unless it’s a bit of rock from outer space. The word in the end is “harmony”, despite the seeming dissonant combinations of collage, the gestures or marks of coloured pencil, and the scumblings of graphite; I think Fitzgerald achieves a kind of “organicism” (for lack of a better word). He once described Wittgenstein as being “not a professional.” 4, Fitzgerald is the same, he learns from the amateur attitude, and in doing so, he reaches for a harmony with nature.

London, June 2010 (written to accompany an exhibition at Guest Room/Contemporary Art, Brussels).


1. Masanobu Fukuoka, The One-Straw Revolution, (NY, 2009; Fir. pub. 1978). P.74-5.

2. Patrick Michael Fitzgerald, statement in Plan D, (Porto, 2005). P. 25.

3. Masanobu Fukuoka, quoted by Larry Korn,

4. Patrick Michael Fitzgerald with Sean Shanahan, “Conversation” in The Morning Hours, (Rubicon Gallery, Dublin, 2002). P.8

Sherman Sam is an artist and writer based in London and Singapore. He is contributing editor to and London correspondent for The Brooklyn Rail. His paintings and drawings were exhibited recently with The Rubicon Gallery in Dublin (2009) and The Suburban in Chicago (2008).

© Sherman Sam, 2010

The voice of things 

by Enrique Juncosa 

It has often been written that painting and sculpture were seriously questioned in the 1960’s and 70’s with the emergence of conceptual art. Many of the arguments used against them at that time, such as their emphasis on formalism and their value as a commodity, were based on certain ideas from the early 20th century, originating in theory (Walter Benjamin for example) or from practice (Marcel Duchamp). However, far from finishing off those practices, since then denominated as object based, the new perspectives generated in those years have succeeded in radically revitalizing them. Sculpture certainly enjoyed a brilliant period in the last 30 years of the last century, as evidenced in the work of Joseph Bueys, Bruce Nauman and Richard Serra. It continues in good health today, developing its revolutionary ideas, with the likes of Martin Puryear, Cristina Iglesias or Mark Manders. The work of other important artists from the last part of the 20th century such as Marcel Broodthaers, Daniel Buren or Hélio Oiticica whose practice could be described as a critique of painting (1) has ended up being a positive influence in more recent developments. This can be seen in the work of artists the like of Franz Ackerman, Arturo Herrera or Jim Lambie to mention only a few. Equally, the development of digital technology, with its new methods of image creation has been crucial in this sense, facilitating the invention of new pictorial spaces in the work of Ati Maier, Terry Winters and Julie Mehretu (2). It is certainly the case, that to speak of the death of painting, or sculpture, is an anachronism from the last century, or if one prefers a mere exaggeration. An important group of contemporary artists, however, continue to use new media with great persuasive power. Whatever the chosen media may be, its use for the majority of artists is of instrumental value for their practice. Indeed, both cinema and photography have also been questioned.

Some of the most interesting contemporary painting, in any case, is not governed by traditional categories such as abstraction or figuration, portrait or landscape. In many cases it can not even be defined as painting on canvas at all. Even when one can speak about it in these terms, the peculiarities of each artist are much more relevant than this kind of description. This is the case with the work of Irish artist Patrick Michael Fitzgerald, whom we are dealing with here, and whose work can be described without problem as abstract. Fitzgerald also uses traditional formats and techniques. However, his abstraction is not the simple reductionist exercise which characterized much modernist painting. The formal elements in his painting are not the summit of a hierarchical system of intentions, but rather one of whole number of strategies. His work is conscious of the great modernist tradition of painting and Fitzgerald has mentioned his interest in the work of such painters as Pierre Bonnard, Malevich or Clyfford Still, but also of importance is a whole range of personal experiences, as well as cinema, music, poetry and architecture. Fitzgerald’s painting is atmospheric, and pursues a kind of silent intensity far removed from both emotional proclamations and symbolism. His poetics, which admits “extreme contrasts” -Mondrian and Morandi, Munch and Ryman-, as the artist has mentioned to the critic and poet Juan Manuel Bonet (3), is close to the poetry of Francis Ponge, who endeavoured to show us, with a neutral voice, the murmur of things that surround us. I discovered the work of Patrick Michael Fitzgerald five or six years ago. The paintings he was making at that time were usually slightly vertical and occasionally had irregular or indented sides. They were also divided into two or three fields of colour, one dominant and the other or others almost like frames or borders. In some works points -holes in fact- would appear across the total space of the painting, along with guides or one or two lines creating subtle spatial effects. The colours were muted, mostly ochres and brownish greys, but these could be transparent or deep. Fitzgerald mixes oil paint with lacquers and varnishes and the viewer can ponder on the number of layers that have gone into the making of the painting. They were works which explored the effects of light on specific architectural or natural spaces. Their emotive and ambiguous light took them far beyond, as aforementioned, simple formal or reductionist games. In these paintings the geometry was important but a particular light would soften their rationality. The overall result, it must be added that Fitzgerald has a preference for small format works, embodied an idea of fragility. The spaces referred to in the works were lived-in and everyday rather than invented ones and suggested the time of dawn or dusk when the light is ambiguous. Indeed, The Morning Hours was the title Fitzgerald gave one of his exhibitions at the Rubicon Gallery, Dublin in 2002, where he showed a number of works like the ones I have been describing here.

Subsequently, although in a gradual way, his paintings have become more complex, and at times the geometry has given way to much more organic spaces. If previously we could imagine architectural spaces, now shadows, movements and gardens are suggested. The palette has also become darker and more varied, including greens, reds and blues. The element of drawing is also more complex and has become an integral part of the painting. Certain lines and areas of colour are broken or irregular. The spaces are deeper and denser and the contrasts of light are much more marked. The brush marks have become much more visible as well, and in some works, such as Valley (2006-07) the material is especially evident. There is less use of varnishes and lacquers, resulting in a less uniform surface. Geometry, and its systematic sustenance -although we can still find paintings like System (2006) or Shift (2007) or Collapse (2007), which seem to allude to mainly formal questions-, has been undermined by these new irregularities. Furthermore, Fitzgerald often hangs the paintings at varying heights, emphasising these new somewhat destabilizing ideas. His ultimate subject is probably the personal experience of different everyday spaces and different atmospheric phenomenon. In fact some works have titles like Portbou (2006-07) or Mena (viento) (2002-07), which make explicit reference to this possibility. The paintings never become expressionist, rather they make a display of their fragility. They deal with ineffable questions, those that can only be addressed by art itself. Working in series, in repetition or variation, are almost an inherent part of this kind of endeavour. An endeavour which can also be understood as reflection: another painting has precisely the title of Rumination (2006).

The recent paintings of Patrick Michael Fitzgerald first bring to mind certain works by Ellsworth Kelly from the early 1950’s, known as the French period of the American artist. After an initial figurative phase Kelly produced a series of abstractions based on his own photographs of windows, swings, branches or shadows on staircases. The origins in the real of these works, especially the series titled La Combe (1950-01), would probably be unknown to us if we did not know his photographs (4). Other works by Kelly such as November Painting (1950), seem to be directly related, in this case even in the title, to Fitzgerald’s recent paintings. Kelly, however, went on to simplify his works to finally arrive at the monochromatic abstractions for which he became known. Fitzgerald pursues a greater level of complexity, and does not reject semantic questions. His paintings, though referring to the play of light and shade that one can observe in a garden or the interior of different architectural spaces, as well as the memory of certain beloved paintings, present all their entangled elements as a kind of total psychic entity. This characteristic, where form and subject recognize each other and are superimposed, brings him close to the late Clyfford Still, although in the work of Fitzgerald there is none of the epic grandiloquence. His light, like that of the French artists Bonnard or Vuillard is not necessarily meta-linguistic and draws on the memory of experiences, or if one prefers on phenomenological questions. Once again, like the French poet Francis Ponge, Fitzgerald describes in an intricate and meticulous way certain kinds of common experiences. He does this poetically, but his style is more driven by reflection, which to use a metaphor, brings him closer to the essay form.


(1) This was the theme of the seminal exhibition: Painting at the Edge of the World, curated by Douglas Fogle for the Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis, 2001.

(2) See the catalogue for the exhibition Remote Viewing (Invented Worlds in recent Paintings and Drawings), curated by Elisabeth Sussman for the Whitney Museum, New York, 2005.

(3) Juan Manuel Bonet, Petals on a black bough, in the catalogue for the exhibition by Patrick Michael Fitzgerald & Eugenio Ortiz at the Museo Gustavo de Maeztu, Estella-Lizarra, 2007.

(4) See the catalogue for the exhibition Ellsworth Kelly, Les années francaises,1948-1954, curated by Jack Cowart and Alfred Pacquement at the Jeu de Paume, Paris, 1992.

This text was written for Patrick Michael Fitzgerald, Paintings & Drawings, 2007, 96 pages, Ayuntamiento de Pamplona & Centre Culturel Irlandais.

ISBN 978-0-9554084-2-7

© Enrique Juncosa 2007

An extract from To see is to behold by Mark Gisbourne, a catalogue text (ISBN 84-88559-35-6) for the exhibition Sight Mapping, Sala Rekalde, Bilbao 2003.

The space between the artist’s intention and the material content of painting is the most complex aspect of any painter’s practice. To overemphasise the material content is to formalise and determine a painting, and to underemphasize it usually tends to psychologise the artist’s biography and negate the actual vehicle of its expression. But the paradox of painting’s presence is that it is both an actualising interstice, a liminal moment of seeing perception, and at the same time a punctuation mark in the history of its making. Patrick Michael Fitzgerald makes this position eloquently clear, ‘For me painting has been a way of marking the time of my life, a kind of “stages of life’s way”. These stages are like presences… the idea of presence is essential to me.’ Yet it remains evident, however, for Fitzgerald, that there is still a dialectical engagement between the properties of painting as a material object and the outcome as image that is able to be transmitted in some way. As he puts it, ‘objects in themselves tend to get lost in the world of things, the image tends to get lost in itself. This getting lost in itself is what interests me though it is dependent on the physical qualities of painting.’ (1) This argument rightly asserts that painting possesses its own internality, a Beckettian existential argument might call this the ‘abode where lost bodies roam each searching for its lost one’. (2) And, if the material contents of the paintings are like ‘lost bodies’, they are not merely the formalist visual autonomy of say Greenbergs’s ‘art for art’s sake’ (things can hardly have a transparent autonomy if they are lost to themselves), but rather a fusion of intent with an anxious and invariably unsatisfactory outcome as a material manifestation.

It is the condition of reverie and ambiguous dissatisfaction ‘the Messiah is coming but never now’, that is essential to the studio practice of a painter, and by extension it is the means that sustains the ongoing internal inquiry into the factual presence of a painter painting. (3) If this sounds a little opaque then so be it. Yet it can be transmitted to the viewer (first off as marker) by means of invoking the anxiety the lies at the heart of its making. To know the intent one must first mentally consume the content, literally internalise the given materials as the expressive vehicle but not the ultimate message. And, in a contradictory sense the message is never really ultimate, since it is always ahead of you – a thing sought but never fully attained. This is one among the several significant reasons that sustains painting today.

[1] Conversation between Andrew Bick and Patrick Michael Fitzgerald, in, Patrick Michael Fitzgerald: Tiempo y Sombra, ex. Cat., AT (Amasté espacio de arte), Bilbao, March 2000, pp. 23,25

[2] Samuel Beckett, The Lost Ones (1966, 1970), in Samuel Beckett: The Complete Short Prose, 1929-1989, Grove Press, New York, 1995. pp202-223 (p.202) I cite Beckett in relation to Fitzgerald not only because of their shared Irish origins but because the artist has made specific references to Beckett in his works.

[3] Conversation with Seán Shanahan and Patrick Michael Fitzgerald, in Patrick Michael Fitzgerald: The Morning Hours, ex. Cat., Rubicon Gallery (5-30 March), Dublin, 2002, p.6