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Lotus Gallery/Karen Moriarty: In Full Bloom

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


Just in time for Spring, Fort Wayne's art scene is beginning to get very active. With the recent grand opening of the Fort Wayne Museum of Art's renovation and addition, all of the consistent alternative exhibition spaces throughout downtown, and many new artists coming into prominence, the public's interest in the art world seems to be on a high. Being keen social entrepreneurs, Jina Lauer and Vicki Salzbrun are utilizing this unique opportunity to open LOTUS Yoga, Wellness & Gallery, which is guaranteed to become an important space for the arts in downtown Fort Wayne.

LOTUS Yoga, Wellness & Gallery is located at 1301 Lafayette Street. This beautifully renovated, experiential location has, in the past, been the Avant-Garde Gallery under the direction of Sal Soto, and most recently Kachmann Gallery. While these older galleries were not especially active and eventually receded, LOTUS is determined to grow. With this new incarnation under the leadership of Jina Lauer and Vicki Salzbrun, the gallery will be used once again for exhibitions of local artists, and will eventually have regular hours and additional programming. "Vicki and I believe strongly in building the community downtown. We are not sure what is possible but we have lots of ideas." Lauer said. This kind of enthusiasm is exactly what this perfect arts space has needed for some time now. LOTUS will be featuring Karen Moriarty for their first exhibition, "Pure Beauty." And in addition to this solo exhibition, Moriarty has moved her studio into LOTUS for the time being.

Karen Moriarty's artistic practice developed non-linearly, beginning at the Fort Wayne Art Institute, in the West Central neighborhood downtown. After being away from Fort Wayne for some time she returned and studied at Indiana University in Fort Wayne with Audrey Ushenko and John Hrehov. While Moriarty's art began with these influences of more solid "magic realism", her own art has taken on a very vibrant approach.

Karen Moriarty's work is somewhat devious once examined thoroughly. On the surface, her landscapes and flowery vistas seem like refined paintings which one can find in many locations around the United States. Once this surface is removed and one begins taking in the jaunting brushwork, the vibrant colors, and the painterly attitude of Moriarty's work the viewer finds a mine-field of influences and techniques fighting for attention on the picture plane.

Karen Moriarty cites artists like Pierre Bonnard and Helen Frankenthaler as influences, which can certainly be seen through her use of color and washes. Yet, unlike these two methodical, somewhat puritanical artists, Moriarty rips into these paintings of floral bouquets and ladylike gardens with a modern sense of abstraction. Works like "A Love for Three Oranges" and "Still Life with Red" exhibit a masterful sense of color theory, forcing the eye into a depth through pushing and pulling cool and hot combinations, and a fluidity which makes the images pulse, as though the viewer expects the perspective to shift at some point if the piece is viewed long enough. The frenetic brushstrokes and finessed compositions provide an immediacy and fragile feeling to her works. They are like moments, half-caught but the painter, which are always in danger of fleeting. Other pieces like "Buddha is in Everything" and "Pond" exhibit a near Joan Mitchell quality as paint if thrown and pushed and dredged up again to the surface of these very thin paintings. The Joan Mitchell references also work in reference to Moriarty's content of natural spaces rendered in a near abstract expressionistic way (like Mitchell's "La Grand Vallee" series).

Moriarty's play between thick and lean paint is also a delight to witness in a number of paintings. Pushed to the extreme with her delicate washes used often and then jarring the eye to stand in attention at a staccato of thick brushstrokes, Moriarty plays with and through the picture plane. These allow her to create a great sense of depth in space as well as realistic depictions of liquid such as "Emerging", a very thin painting of a woman swimming in a pool with lilies.
This ability to bridge broad stylistic approaches is currently moving her closer to collage, with odd combinations of materials, paint, and more traditional media such as paper.

Opening up the new LOTUS gallery space with Karen Moriarty was a perfect choice for Lauer and Salzbrun. Moriarty's tranquil works will inspire their students, and her deep roots with Fort Wayne's art community will help connect it to the new gallery. As downtown continues to grow through the implementation of a local and state sanctioned cultural district, and begins to pick up more artist studios and gallery spaces, it is becoming a true cultural destination. Artists such as Karen Moriarty, with there prolific capacity for making work, and discipline toward the formal and conceptual aspects of painting, can finally begin to be acknowledged as great Fort Wayne artists with solo exhibitions in beautiful galleries like LOTUS.

"Pure Beauty", March –May 24
Artists & Collectors Reception, April 3, 6-9:30pm
Drawing at 8pm for a FREE oil painting
LOTUS Gallery, 1301 South Lafayette


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