Liane Fitzgerald
Liane Fitzgerald at an exhibition of her work held at the Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School in December. Photo by Susan Safford

Partners on a pathway to art

By Pat Waring - January 18, 2007

With a naturally inquiring mind, lots of inspiration from exotic family travels, a fascination with everything from knitting and piano playing to cooking and surfing, not to mention a love for bright colors, it is little wonder that Liane Fitzgerald has always dabbled in art. But it wasn't until the 18-year-old Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School student undertook a mentorship with Tisbury artist Cindy Kane that she really began to focus.

"I don't know how much art I would have done if it hadn't been for this mentorship," says Liane, now setting out to work on her own after three years of companionable creative sessions with Ms. Kane.

Just this month Liane set up her own workspace. Her finished pieces, stacks of small, colorful canvases embellished with intricate designs, and a wooden box filled with tubes of acrylic paints are set out on a narrow table in the corner of her bedroom. There is also a stack of papers - tattered pages from books, newspaper clippings, maps, and typewritten letters on tissue-thin paper - all materials for her collages. As does the spacious wood and glass-lined living room above, the wide window offers an osprey's-eye view of Chilmark woods. It is a perfect place to dream, to imagine, to make art.

Liane Fitzgerald
Liane includes an imaginative mix of elements in her compositions.

Her canvases are small - ranging 4- by 6-inches up to 8 by 10 - but they are awash with bright, jewel-toned colors, accented with images, type, diagrams, shapes, all cut from paper. Map details, tiny flowers, musical notes, lacy circles, and architectural elements appear frequently. The effect is both expansively lush and precise, sometimes elegant, sometimes whimsical and light-hearted.

Liane grew up here in Chilmark, in this airy yet cozy home perched like a treehouse on the edge of a hill. Her parents are Kathy Cerick and Charles Fitzgerald, and she has a sister and a half-brother, both older than she is. After attending the Chilmark School through grade three, Liane switched to the charter school. Years later, the school has become like home to her and although she looks forward to graduating this spring she also hates to leave it.

Liane wasn't certain she wanted to try an arts mentorship although an earlier experience studying with painter Al Hurwitz had been good. Describing herself as someone who dabbles in the arts, she thought she might like to work with a chef, or try needlework, or music. Then she got paired up with Ms. Kane.

"But it was nice to work with Cindy because I got to focus on one kind of art," said Liane, chatting over tea at the long kitchen table. A tall, graceful young woman with long dark hair and a wide smile, she combines a striking poise and confidence with a youthful exuberance - occasional giggles, uncertainty about the future, and shy surprise as she talks about her artistic achievements.

Liane Fitzgerald Liane Fitzgerald Liane Fitzgerald
A trio of small canvases by the young artist illustrates the variety of materials and colors she uses. Courtesy of Liane Fitzgerald

The two got along well and during the once-weekly sessions in Ms. Kane's studio they would listen to music and share easy conversation. During the first year, Ms. Kane offered Liane an unusual challenge: find a favorite book and paint in it, a format the artist had seen once before.

Liane chose a paperback copy of "A Catcher in the Rye," filling it with bright splashes of color, occasional clippings and pictures.

Ms. Kane occasionally incorporates collage materials in her paintings. Liane soon developed her own style, painting canvases with rich tones of acrylic and adding delicate collages from found paper materials.

Rather than having a teacher/student relationship, the pair became creative colleagues, each working on their own piece, while energizing each other.

The atmosphere was inspiring to Liane. "Just being in her studio and seeing what she was painting, I would know where to go next," recalled Liane. "It was not like sitting in a room with white walls."

Ms. Kane did not hesitate two years ago when she received a call from Paul Karasik at the charter school asking if she would become a mentor for Liane. Mr. Karasik, then Mentorship Coordinator, has had many other active roles at the school.

Ms. Kane said they immediately got along, and she was quickly impressed by Liane's creativity and determination. In the beginning, Ms. Kane briefly had Liane work together with her on a painting. "It was clear that she could do her own projects and was a hard worker."

The artist admired how Liane, whom she described as intuitive, delved in to the book-painting project, and the flair she showed in her later collages. "I think she just absorbed being in the studio of a working artist. She absorbed my process and just followed." Meanwhile, Ms. Kane enjoyed the afternoons in the studio with Liane, their conversations and the up-to-date CDs the younger woman brought with her.

When she as asked what she had learned in her three years with Ms. Kane, Liane thought a long while, sipping her tea. "I learned how to balance my paintings," she said at last. "I learned about myself that I'm always balancing things."

She was struck by this intuitive wish to balance elements and said that in terms of both composition and color, "all my paintings had to be balanced." She is, she confided, a Libra, an astrological sign characterized by balance, and she suspects this love of balance and symmetry is why circles are such an important element in her art.

Painting alongside a working artist caused Liane to contemplate the creative dilemma of whether one makes art for oneself or for the public. And she concluded that, much as she enjoys receiving positive feedback, her work is inner-directed. "I realized I had to do it for myself," she said.

Just before Christmas vacation this year, Liane had an exhibit of her work at the charter school, part of her graduation requirement. She received positive comments about the two dozen pieces, and the committee of staff and outside experts agreed that she passed the requirement. Soon afterwards, Ms. Kane suggested that Liane begin working on her own, although the two will keep in frequent touch.

"I'm curious to see if my style will completely change," Liane said.

Liane Fitzgerald
Circular shapes appear again and again in Liane's work; with her love for balance, she says the circle is a personal favorite.

The young artist said her collages do not mean to impart a message or convey a hidden meaning, saying, "I just like the aesthetic and balance part of it." She begins by choosing materials she likes, clippings and cutouts, often parts of doilies (she loves circles) and moves them around until it all feels right. Then she chooses a background color - her favorites are vibrant, rich and luminous, blues and greens, turquoise, orange, fuchsia, rose, and golden yellows.

"It's always an experiment," she laughs. "I don't have an idea in my head when I start. I don't know what it's going to look like when it's done. I try to pick colors that go well together, or don't go well together so it pops out."

After graduation Liane plans to travel for a year and then settle down at college. Whichever school she attends, it will not be an art school. There are too many other subjects she wants to pursue, with environmental science and international relations high on the list.

But even if she does not study art, even if her ambition is not necessarily to see her paintings hanging on a gallery wall, Liane says that art will remain a very important part of her life, thanks in part to the Ms. Kane and this mentorship.

"I really do love art," she says. "It's definitely something I want to do throughout my life recreationally. Hopefully there will be opportunity for that."