Middle ground: Fitts neither neat nor messy

For some, a healthy dose of anarchy in one’s domestic space reflects a complicated, busy mind. Unfortunately, the tyrannically clean among us don’t seem to buy that argument (persuasive as it seems).
    Local artist Michael Fitts has come up with a third way. In his oil paintings, Fitts doesn’t clutter up his frame or leave it empty and wanting. Rather, he leaves for anyone’s perusal one single domestic object, rendered without excessive detail or even a hint of abstraction.  
By default, then, the most singular detail in any of his paintings tends to be his chosen surface itself. Fitts eschews boring plain old white canvas for sheets of metal in various states of worry and decay.
Bars of rust line the edges of one painting, dents and gouges run up and down the surface of another. Industrial-thick staples edge the frame of every painting. It lends a machine shop/junkyard vibe to his art, which, on the one hand, is just pretty cool. 
It also has the secondary function of giving his work a certain plausibility. That is, just as if Fitts painted on slabs of Formica countertop, the metal surfaces look like surfaces that not only exist in the world, but also surfaces upon which people actually put things. 
And so, when Fitts paints a single spoon (“Spoon”), complete with the kind of arthritic shadow that low-angle light would produce, it really looks like a spoon left out on some piece of metal, not so much like an artistic gesture (which, of course, it is).
In a few notable instances, Fitts breaks his own quiet two-dimensionality (that is, he treats the surface of his medium like a real surface). “Levitating Granny Smith,” which, like all of Fitts’ titles, tells you all you need to know about the painting, gives the floating apple a simple, three-dimensional space to hover in.
Two other paintings, both of upholstered chairs, show their objects in, rather than on, the metal surface. It isn’t too much of a departure, however, as all of the paintings now up at the Mudhouse have the same lightness of touch and playful, uncomplicated quality absent from the lives of the habitually messy or the chronically clean.

Michael Fitts’ “New Paintings” runs through August at the Mudhouse, 213 W. Main St. on the Downtown Mall. 984-6833

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