Feature Stories

Reflections on life

Moriarty’s work evolves in new directions

By Bonnie Blackburn
Copper Ribbon "
Copper RIbbon 2
Metal Study No. "
Diptych Pond No. 2
Diptych Pond No. 2
No More Zero
Karen Moriarty’s sumptuous oil paintings hang in offices across town, her dreamy, Impressionistic landscapes and floral compositions providing a wonderful palette for the eye to wander through.

But lately, her work has taken a turn for the dark side, with wavy metals stretched across black plexiglass so smooth it sinks away, reflecting the metals and the viewer alike in a silken dark pool.

Working with art student Robert Vegeler, Moriarty has gone three-dimensional, crafting shining copper waves that float above the black surface, or adding rusty pieces of machinery to the plastic glass. The machinery’s own surface features an infinite variety of rusty reds — a bold contrast to the black background. It’s quite a contrast from her florals, but both offer ways of reflecting about art and the artist herself.

Originally from Goshen, Ind., Moriarty came to Fort Wayne as a student at the old Fort Wayne Art School, where she learned classical drawing and painting techniques.

“All day long we were immersed in drawing and composition,” she recalled. “It was so intensive. It’s all visual. If you wanted academics, you went (elsewhere).”

Moriarty can’t remember a time when she didn’t draw. Her mother, Vi Moriarty, a seamstress and bank teller, used to draw faces and profiles. The Moriartys are related to the muralist painter Thomas Hart Benton, and Moriarty has concentrated on the outdoors in her body of work.

She built a career in commercial art and interior design, even working for a time as a courtroom artist, sketching criminal defendants. For someone in love with beautiful things, that job was an eye-opener.

“I wasn’t accustomed to hearing the gory details” of crimes, she said. “I felt like a voyeur. I would just sink into my drawings. And I started locking my doors and windows!”

After years of drawing with pen and ink, she went back to school to relearn how to hold a paintbrush, to, in her words, “loosen up” her hand. And 15 years ago, she struck out on her own, painting flowers and landscapes and dreamy, beautiful canvases that hearken to sunny summer days, crisp fall afternoons and wintery days in downtown Fort Wayne.

Her canvases can be found all over town, and Moriarty said she’s sometimes surprised when she walks into a place and sees one of her creations.

“It’s like I’m seeing an old friend,” she said. “It’s like I’m seeing one of (my) kids. If you walk into a building and see a painting you don’t know it’s there, you think, ‘Oh, I like that!’ You wouldn’t do the work if you didn’t like it.”

Moriarty’s creative begins with a vision.

“I think of (a painting) when I wake up in the morning and I see a vision and I’ll start exploring that,” she said. “It’s like the process with interior design: this is the look, how can we do it? What’s the most interesting way to make it happen? Sometimes the material suggests it.”

For example, her new pieces with copper and metal and black plastic glass.

The copper “was the start. It just needed to be itself and be displayed in all its beauty. I just allowed it to happen. The material said to me, ‘I need to be displayed like this.’ You don’t think about it, you just do it.”

She paints mainly in the afternoon and evening. “I’m a second trick person,” she said with a laugh. “That’s when things are moving for me.”

She works out of her cozy yet light-filled studio next to the Lotus Gallery on Lafayette Street, a move from her old studio on The Landing. Her work is represented at the Artist’s Den in Valparaiso, and will be shown at a new gallery to open later this year in Covington Plaza. She said she’ll be concentrating on a series depicting water.

Though she’s one of the more successful working artists in Fort Wayne, the business side of art is “more challenging,” she said.

“The income comes in such fits and starts. You have to plan for that and know if you have a show or event, that’s going to generate sales.”

Her florals and landscapes are very Impressionistic in style, yet she’s also worked in Realism and is very influenced by Robert Rauchenberg, the painter and sculptor who incorporated found objects in his work. Her work, “Calhoun Street 1938,” is sepia toned and exact, yet with a dreamy quality that comes from falling snow. One of her latest works, “Ode to Frankenthaler,” took 15 minutes on a raw canvas and is a tribute to the three primary colors, red, blue and yellow. It’s an homage to the Abstract Expressionist artist Helen Frankenthaler.

Her evolution as an artist is ongoing.

“I’m on an adventure. I think all artists are on an adventure. You’re exploring new areas, new ways. It’s what keeps the work alive,” she said.

“I think I’m getting deeper into the art,” Moriarty said. “It’s a natural evolution for all artists. I’ve explored the florals, the landscapes. I’ve done that. I need to expand and learn.”

Reflections are a “big part” of her work. “Autumn Lake,” a large canvas of reds and oranges and yellows, is the culmination of her move into total Abstractionism, she said. It’s a scene of fall trees whose reflections in a lake at Chain O’Lakes State Park seem to move and shimmer so that it’s not entirely clear where tree ends and lake begins.

“These reflections keep happening,” in her work, she noted. “Nature is the No. 1 artist. We can only aspire to be as creative as nature is and create such beauty. I’m at this step on the path where I’m going. The fun part is you don’t know where you’re going. It’s all about the trip.”

Posted: Tue, 07/31/2012 - 1:51 pm
Last updated: Mon, 10/29/2012 - 1:53 pm