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New Abstractions: Karen Moriarty and Robert Vegeler

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


Fort Wayne is home to an absurd number of creative talents. In many cases, our community's artistic talents are creating works in their free time, on the weekends, and when they can get away with some time to think. Without an educational institution offering a terminal degree, or consistent collecting community, or strong market force like a regional or national gallery, Fort Wayne's creative talents have been forced in many instances to continue their own education, find their own markets, and network among themselves. In certain circumstances, artists and art lovers end up meeting and begin to teach, inspire, and make work together. Karen Moriarty, long time Fort Wayne artist, and Robert Vegeler, local lawyer and avid amateur painter, are an example of these circumstances. Moriarty recently gave Vegeler a few art lessons, which turned into Moriarty taking the slow-but-steady abstract bent in her work forward, followed by Vegeler's finished painings, Moriarty's exploration into metal assemblage, and voila, the exhibition "Metals and Paint" came together through the Lotus Gallery.

Karen Moriarty's work, best known as being colorful landscapes seemingly in movement due to their vibrance and active line quality, seems to be at some point in a flux currently, with this exhibition containing some prints of her more seasoned work, examples of how her landscapes have begun "melting" into lyrical abstraction, colorfield pure abstraction, assemblage made with found metal pieces and plexiglass, and hauntingly beautiful "water paintings" on steel plates. While in art school, students are many times admonished for exploring too much and too often, and encouraged to stick to something and really dig in deep. It would seem as Moriarty's artistic career has continued from her time at the Fort Wayne Art School, to her work as an interior designer and court room sketch artist, to the last couple decades when she has been known as a painter, Moriarty's muse has moved slowly but surely, and may now be doing some sort of dance of seven veils, shedding many of the formal artistic aspects for raw creative expression.

In pieces like "Covington Lake", Moriarty's most recognizable style includes overlaid naturalistic colors and realistic depth of field and scale. And in her style, Moriarty also includes recognizable dabs of paint in the foreground next to splatters and bolts of paint in the ground representing everything from tree branches to watery reflections. These stylistic combinations have always made her landscapes and floral pieces, subjects which are not exactly avant-garde, still pack a punch. Because of this being the back bone of Moriarty's work over the last few years, the sight of her newer, truer abstractions are a delight. "Ode To Frankenthaler" and "Rorschaching" were two specific delights in that they did away with Karen's past concerns for formal spatial composition almost completely, instead giving a near singular concern over to color and its ability to create its own depth and multiple associations through its shape. The simplicity in "Ode To Frankenthaler" is especially interesting, creating what Clement Greenberg would herald as "post painterly abstraction", with a "soak stain" style of painting with heavily diluted oils which soak directly into the canvas, making the canvas itself intrinsic to the image and not just a painted object.

Taking these processes of abstract painting and turning them on their head, Moriarty has also begin making, and contributed to this exhibition, pieces of found metal assemblage, including everything from gears and steel plates, to fireplace structures, to unidentified chunks of iron. Moriarty mounts and composes these pieces on blank sheets of black plexiglass, creating assisted readymades which contain a large number of art historical references from Richard Serra and other minimalist concepts to Italian arte povera, and early Dada and German Expressionism. Ultimately, it would seem that these metal abstractions, however external they may initially seem to Moriarty's older work, have brought her to what might be a brave new world to her work. "Three Steel Plates" is an unassuming piece taking a quiet corner of "Metals and Paint", but commanding ones attention once its secrets are revealed. Moriarty's obsession with new metal objects eventually lead into some very interesting mapping of her creative process. It wasn't necessarily the concrete reality or man-made quality of the metal pieces that were drawing Moriarty's attention, but the natural decay of them- the rust, and broken edges. It turns out that Moriarty is naturally drawn to nature, and the painterly quality which organic processes produce. In "Three Steel Plates" Moriarty stops controlling the paint, and forcing the pieces together with rivets. Instead, she has found a material which responds to the natural world in slow but steady way-rusting-and she begins to paint with water. "Three Steel Plates" is a collaborative piece between Moriarty and the world of chemistry. The image produced is nothing less than the reality of the materials she is using. In a minimalist sense, Moriarty has reached the core of her practice. Evoking the waterfall images of Pat Steir, Moriarty's water paintings are beautiful aesthetic constructs of impermanence, rigid form, the most naturalistic imagery, and post painterly abstraction.

In concert with Karen Moriarty's work was the surprising work of Robert Vegeler, a local lawyer and amateur painter. Vegeler's work includes some early works which are less inspired hard edge compositions, a few more interesting early abstractions which are more single shot formal studies, as well as a pair of incredibly interesting non-objective pieces which show an impressive latent talent. "Somewhere" and "Barstock" are Vegeler's pieces which are combinatory images built off of the soak-stain effect under a flattening series of intense and metallic colors. While these images are very similar in technical style "Barstock" is much denser, and carried by metallic gold which moves the eye in and out of the total image. In "Somewhere" the image looks almost empty in comparison and is far more carried by a deep indigo which is diluted into a violet in the background, and heavily accented by a cerulean blue. While these descriptions are incredibly formal, they are windows into the greatness of Vegeler's work. In both of these pieces, he creates lyrical abstractions which fade in and out of art historical references like Morris Louis, Arshile Gorky, and Larry Poons.

"Metals and Paint" is a wonderful exhibition showcasing this creative duo's inspirations on each other's work and the artistic journeys taken.

"Metals and Paint"
May 5-May 26th, 2012
Lotus Gallery
1301 Lafayette Street
To learn more about this exhibition, visit www.lotusfw.com.

To learn more about Karen Moriarty please visit www.karenmoriarty.com

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