Everyday objects: Fitts elevates the mundane

Once or twice a year, it seems, Michael Fitts finds an opportunity to show his work, and that’s a good thing. The painter knows his way around sheet metal, does minimalism like a bug collector, and never leaves home without a subtle, almost obtuse sense of playfulness. Those sorts of things are always welcome in this space.
With Fitts’ new exhibit, “Affinities,” there isn’t a whole lot new going on. In fact, it might seem like there’s nothing new going on at all. What becomes apparent, however, is that Fitts works in small gestures, and he still has plenty to say within his relatively narrow range of expression. 
Fitts’ familiar elements are all in place here. He avoids more typical painting surfaces like canvas in favor of sheets of metal, stapled, overlaid, and in varying states of oxidation. As is his habit, Fitts leaves nearly the whole surface of his plate metal surface exposed.
Most often, Fitts paints only at the dead center of the painting. Here, he depicts common objects, often life-sized and situated on the surface as if in the center of a table and viewed from directly above. A folded shirt, a paper airplane, a crescent wrench– the sorts of things people often carelessly leave lying around the house– have here been carefully rendered in a way that invites investigation.
Fitts also continues his series of plush chairs (what he now calls his ebay series), which, in a breaking of Fitts’ cosmic law, actually sit within an implied three-dimensional space. That is, he treats his painting surface as a painting surface and not as a literal surface.
Fitts’ idiosyncratic attraction to common objects and his odd choice of painting surface both give his work a certain charm. But there is more going on then just that. Much of Fitts’ work on display keeps odd little touches, some of which are clear right away, others of which almost hide in plain sight.
In “Book #2,” an example of the former, Fitts places the crease running down the middle of an open book right along the crease between two plates of metal in a blunt use of symmetry. Fitts uses a uniform, crease-less metal plate for “Paper Airplanes,” which, as the title suggests, depicts a number of paper airplanes all the same size and placed in the same orientation. Without any imperfections in the sheet metal to work against or with, Fitts instead focuses on a gradiated shadow play– just the sort of little detail that would be lost or crowded out in any paintings different from Fitts’ obsessive object studies.

“Affinities,” Michael Fitts’ exhibit of new paintings on metal, runs through June 1 at the McGuffey Art Center. 201 Second St. NW. 295-7973.