Three local artists share their work and inspiration during KAC exhibit opening

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CLINTON — Holding the portraits painted of one another, local artists John Fitzsimmons, Tom Montan and Doug Whitfield discussed their artistic influences and inspirations during a brief talk at their gallery opening on Oct. 10 at Kirkland Art Center.

KAC, 9 1/2 E. Park Row, has launched a virtual and in-person exhibition of the three local artists, whose paintings promise to bring new perspectives on their subjects.

“Portraits, Figures” features all three artists, who all live and work in upstate New York. Damhnait McHugh, Kirkland Art Center Board co-president, said it was the artists and their works themselves that inspired the theme of the exhibit.

Whitfield is known for his “dream-like” theatrical characters that often have curved or arched arms. He used this very interpretation when painting the portrait of artist Montan for the exhibit. Whitfield had been one of the art directors at Kodak and said for years he has “lived the fine artist life,” making art his full-time career.

He studied at the Cleveland Institute of Art, Mohawk Valley Community College, Rochester Institute of Technology and Syracuse University. He received his AAS in Design in 1965 and bachelor’s of fine arts in Painting in 1968 at RIT. He earned Master Teacher Certification, Integrative Learning System in 1999 from Syracuse University.

The painter explained he uses the concept of juxtaposition to bridge the world between the real and fantasy in his theatrical works. He said the “characters” in his “dramas" often have curved arms to indicate that they are in motion — doing something or always working.

"My compositions are dreamlike — they blur myth, history and fantasy together,” said Whitfield. "My characters gesture to you dramatically and strike romantic poses on the stage of my fantastic theater. They are cognizant of you, just as you are of them."

He said, "In my ambiguous dramas, the beautiful and grotesque seem but two sides of the same coin. The point of these juxtapositions other than for your delight, is to engage the power of your imagination to reconcile the ambiguity. My performers beg you to step onto their stage and play along with them in my fantastic theater."

On the contrast, Tom Montan is a self-taught artist with 35 years experience. His figurative and portrait work focuses on the individuals’ self determination.  In addition to finding the right subjects for his paintings, he works to bring these paintings and the force of these paintings into larger-than-life perspectives.

Not being a full-time career, Montan said he appreciates that his passion for painting can remain free from the pressures of work — that it’s a release and escape from the every-day. He said part of art is questioning color and shape, and why something like an oak floor, for example, may be depicted in a light color as opposed to a darker color. Montan said art should be one’s own interpretation and inception.

“Painting is the practice of hiding your heart in plain sight,” the artist confesses on his website, www.tommontan.com.

Whitfield said having worked in art full-time most of his life, he once felt restrained by the feelings that he needed to paint for a particular audience. It was with years of experience and personal growth that he realized the only person he needed to paint for — was himself.

“I got to a point when I painted for myself, I was not only enjoying my work more, I was getting a better response from people. It was like when they saw one of my paintings, they knew a little bit about me,” he smiled.

His paintings, “Cause the mind to shift to a different place,” Whitfield added.

In Fitzsimmons’ portraits, there is a certain sense of anonymity when his subjects are either turned and not facing straight-ahead, or when a certain glimmer of light may wash out their facial features, much like a reflection.

He describes his style as being “the architecture of anonymity."

In reflecting on the “light” he reflects in his portraits, Fitzsimmons said, "In Upstate New York I grew up with long and cold and dark winters. In part because of that, I like the hard, low winter light and heavy massed forms over which light has to fight its way around. Mostly working in oil, I incise and cross hatch to model forms, modify edges or add detail. Sometimes I work in color, sometimes value. My work avoids specific verbal narratives but invites non-verbal, open and ambiguous ones."

Online viewing of the exhibition is available at www.kacny.org/gallery, and in-person viewing (with masks, social distancing, limited capacity) at the Kirkland Art Center Gallery on East Park Row will run every Saturday from 1-4 p.m.

The exhibition is free, open to the public, and wheelchair accessible.

The show runs through Nov. 20.

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