OCEAN CITY – Last week marked the 150th anniversary of several noteworthy Civil War events, including the Battle of Antietam, and local artist Kevin Fitzgerald celebrated at Water’s Edge Gallery in downtown Berlin by exhibiting his art work directly related to his connection with the Antietam Battlefield.
Fitzgerald was nine years old when he and his family first visited the Antietam Battlefield and at that time the 100th anniversary of the Civil War battle approached. Besides the natural atmosphere, it was the stone arches of Burnside Bridge that struck his memory.
“It has always resonated with me … when we went there, it took you outside of whatever your world was at the moment and you realize there is a greater world, there is something else,” Fitzgerald said. “It was a realization that it was a very big world out there with a lot going on and a lot had gone on, and yet the architecture of that bridge just seemed to have rightness about it, it just fit in so nicely.”
Fitzgerald has returned to Antietam Battlefield at least 15 times since then, including taking his own family on vacation there, and said he is ready to return again.
“It is a refreshing place, almost like a compass point, you go back there and become re-oriented,” he said. “Here something really important happened for the whole story of humanity. It was a really important turning point, and nobody realizes it at the time but later you look back and you say this was the march towards freedom for everybody in the United States. The bridge symbolizes that too. A bridge is something between two things, a past and a future, and a slightly improved or more perfect path the future.”
Fitzgerald explained the reason why he leans toward painting landscapes is preservation.
“When you go to a battle park like that or a national park, there is a concern about that, that things are left alone the way they were, and you try to remove the human intrusion or the human element, which is what I do in the painting,” he said. “In a larger sense, it is a respect for nature, which comes to a landscape painting. The idea of spirituality can be refreshed in landscape and the natural environment. Like looking at the ocean or going out to an unspoiled landscape you feel a connection with the spirituality.”
Although Fitzgerald’s painting of the Antietam Battlefield and charcoal drawings of Civil War soldiers on exhibit are from his personal collection and are not for sale, Water’s Edge Gallery has many more of his paintings that depict landscapes of the Eastern Shore on exhibit and for sale ranging in different price points.
Many of Fitzgerald’s paintings direct the beholder’s eye to the horizon line.
“That is part of the reason why I like this area, is that there is horizontality, a flatness that says limitless,” he said. “It gives you the idea that there is something more beyond what we have here. A visual field is not a catalog of particular detail but you are free to move onto ideology. It becomes an ideal thing when you can look across a large expanse, it frees up your imagination.”
Fitzgerald also has a passion for photography but favors painting because of the mystery.
“When you move these plastic materials around in such a way and you intend for something to happen but what you intend to happen never really quite happens,” he said. “The materials take on a life of their own and if you’re lucky there is something else that happens that is beyond your intention.”
Fitzgerald has been painting for over 30 years. He was born in Washington D.C and it became apparent from early childhood that he was drawn to painting. He started taking drawing classes at the Corcoran School of Art in 1970 and graduated from high school in 1971. He attended the Maryland Institute, College of Art in 1973.
“You have to spend your life on something and my life has been spent on this,” he said.
In 1976, Fitzgerald traveled alone across the country painting landscapes. In 1977, he received his B.F.A. from the Maryland Institute, College of Art. In 1978, Fitzgerald began work on his M.F.A. under full fellowship at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He completed his graduate studies while making paintings on the Patuxent River and surrounding Southern Maryland landscapes and graduated in 1982.
Fitzgerald moved to the area in 1983 and currently has work displayed in art galleries throughout the country, including Annapolis, Alexandria, Va., Nantucket, Mass., and Santa Fe, N.M.. He has been teaching art courses in Wicomico and Worcester counties as well as part-time at Salisbury University.
Several years ago, Fitzgerald decided he wanted to give back to help others interested in art as a career, and he and the Water’s Edge Gallery started an annual scholarship fund, the Berlin of Fine Arts (BFA) Scholarship that awards $1,000 to a graduate at Stephen Decatur Highs School who is planning to attend college to major in fine arts.
Fitzgerald is committed to exhibiting his artwork in the Water’s Edge Gallery until the end of the year with other special events including other artists will be scheduled in the future. The gallery is open Thursdays-Saturdays, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.