Lessons in creativity

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Local art students learn from a pro

Roanoke artist Eric Fitzpatrick led Salem Art Students on a tour of his home studio on Nov. 24. Photo by Kelsey Bartlett.
Roanoke artist Eric Fitzpatrick led Salem Art Students on a tour of his home studio on Nov. 24. Photo by Kelsey Bartlett.
Old music records form an intricate pattern on Roanoke artist Eric Fitzpatrick’s ceiling. A keyboard hangs over his kitchen doorway, and his mantle has been transformed into a small village.

Bright splatters of paint cover every surface of the part of his home that has been converted into an art studio, which starkly contrasts the framed and matted paintings that neatly line the walls of his basement gallery.

On Tuesday, Nov. 24, Jess and Joe Palotas, the owners of Salem Art Center, brought their Zenith program students on a field trip to his home studio, hoping to inspire the group to step outside of their comfort zone. The Zenith program is the art center’s advanced group of ninth through 12th grade students in the Salem area. Fitzpatrick led the group on a tour of his work stations, pausing at each to explain the methods behind his madness.

“What I wanted them to take away from this is the fact that you can make a living in the arts,” Joe Palotas said. “You can be creative and responsive to what’s going on around you in the community. Just locally, you can find good color.”

After Fitzpatrick sustained an arm injury years ago, he taught himself how to paint with his opposite arm, and is now known as “The Ambidextrous Artist,” having won awards with both hands. Fitzpatrick believes that anything can be transformed into art, and is constantly experimenting with new techniques.

Cody McGlothin (left) and Selena Geler (center) take a closer look at one of Fitzpatrick's sculptures.
Cody McGlothin (left) and Selena Geler (center) take a closer look at one of Fitzpatrick’s sculptures.

He graduated from Virginia Tech with an art degree in 1975. When he first stepped into the art world, his primary focus was sculpting. Now, he specializes in watercolor, acrylic and oil paintings, mainly of landscapes and seascapes. “Southern Culture,” “Places of the Heart,” and “The Musicians” are his main series of work.

“I think if you think too much early on, you edit yourself,” Fitzpatrick said of his creative process. “You try to do things for the joy of it, and once they’re done, then you start thinking of how things can go.”

He has dozens of sketch books detailing his time spent travelling. When he sees something that catches his eye, such as the time he witnessed a gondola transporting a refrigerator during his time in Italy, he plots out the details as quickly as he can. He said he used to be a detail painter, but now he doesn’t like to overcomplicate things, as he finds joy in the abstract.

Members of Salem Art Center's Zenith program with artist Eric Fitzpatrick. Photo by Kelsey Bartlett.
Members of Salem Art Center’s Zenith program with artist Eric Fitzpatrick. Photo by Kelsey Bartlett.
Fitzpatrick encouraged the students to expand their horizons rather than just specialize in one form of art.

“Anything heading towards realism is crippled if you don’t have drawing,” Fitzpatrick said. “It pays off to practice. This is like a sport, and whoever works the hardest is going to advance the most. That’s just the way it works.”

“You want to paint like crazy, draw like crazy, and not think too much,” he added.

To learn more about his work, visit http://www.fitzpatrick-art.com/, and to learn more about the art center, visit http://www.salemartcenter.com/.