131 Jen Fitzpatrick

Born Royal Oak, Michigan, 1965/ BFA, University of Michigan; MA, Wayne State University; MFA, School of the Art Institute of Chicago/ Lives in West Bloomfield, Michigan

Striped cubes, spheres, wooden limbs, wheels; Jen Fitzpatrick’s sculptures are like bizarre children’s toys, boiling down complex experiences into simple shapes to wrap your hands around. She encourages imagination and observation, endowing her minimalist geometric sculptures with bright colors and a hint of character, then handing them over to us to parse their meaning through active, tactile engagement.

Fitzpatrick favors wood as a medium for most of her art, citing what she sees as an inherent draw to touch something that was once living. Her diligently smoothed out surfaces beg to have hands run across them, palming curves and hard edges, dragging fingers down stripes of color. With this tactility, Fitzpatrick puts the viewer in a position of power, asking that we literally and figuratively play with the ideas or emotional states that she is presenting, whether it be the blue-toned throes of depression (Depression, 2017) or the green luminescence of all-encompassing joy (Luminous, 2018). To Fitzpatrick, every thought is worth exploring physically. In many ways, her art functions as a meditative tool, offering us an opportunity to comfortably consider and fidget with an idea held in front of us in its simplest form, always with the freedom to set it aside after we have turned it over and explored every crevice. 

In some cases, Fitzpatrick asks that we fiddle with the sensations surrounding us. This is Water (2017), features a bubble-like wooden circle with an orange rimmed magnifying glass suspended on top. Smears of vibrant green and teal swim underneath like excited microorganisms, begging to be scooped up and squirm through inquisitive fingers. Another work, Hunger (2017), shows ovals of concrete engulfing textured globs of pink and red with centers made of rice. The small, flesh toned rectangle and its ‘organs’ pays a certain kind of amazed reverence to the activity of breaking down sustenance, a process felt but never seen. Both pieces are uniquely grounded in an appreciation of the present moment, like tactile prompts prodding us to dig deeper into how we engage with our tangible world. 

Other times, Fitzpatrick presents puzzles of challenging interpersonal interactions. Split (2019) demonstrates the difficulty of reconnecting with a person from whom one has grown distant.  Atop four spindly legs, a purple and orange striped cube is flanked by two connected sock stretchers. When pushed, the stretchers rotate out of sync, leaving the participant with the desire to force them to move in tandem, but the remaining reality is that any harmony is impossible. Eggshells (2018) uses two shoe forms doubled over in a wooden spiral, evoking the twisting turmoil of a relationship with an unpredictable individual. The stacked swirl seems as though it could be pried straight, fixed, adjusted. Yet Fitzpatrick’s point is not to force these dilemmas into something pleasing (after all, in both art and life, this is often impossible), but to suggest that we are in control of learning another person’s grooves and the way they move and behave, so as to decide for ourselves how we ought to respond to them.

Fitzpatrick’s clean, precise craftsmanship counters many of the messy topics she covers by removing raw emotion and replacing it with measured thought that can be comfortably grasped and shifted around. Anxious, Awkward, Inquisitive (2017) acts as a set of uncomfortable action figures. Three cubes teeter on akimbo caster feet, sheepishly acting out their distinct parts. They are wholeheartedly relatable, due to both their anthropomorphic qualities as well as their endearing presentation of hallmarks of the human condition. Rather than create solely negative portraits of anxiety or discomfort, Fitzpatrick turns the trio into a choose-your-own-adventure set that can be moved into any territory we deem fit, giving us the effect and allowing us to play with the cause.
Creating physical stand-ins for intangible moments is a concept that permeates Fitzpatrick’s body of work. For her, this is a type of catharsis, one that she believes could help others find ways of understanding and coping with hardships, or simply day to day living. Recently, Fitzpatrick has taken this idea a step further with her Discursive Objects (2019). The series utilizes 32 pieces, ranging vastly in size, shape, and color, that are able to be recombined under a new title in seemingly innumerable ways. The project is ongoing. In it, Fitzpatrick continues to use her distinct form of meditative play as a means of creating new opportunities for participants to explore their everyday experiences and interactions in a more concrete way.

Samantha Hohman, October 2019

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