Tanya Fitzgerald: The Medium Is Just Right
If artist Tanya Fitzgerald’s work was a city, it would be New Orleans.
Although she wasn’t raised there, New Orleans was only a short drive from Collins, Miss., where Fitzgerald spent much of her childhood. Trips to New Orleans were anticipated, frequent and stirring. “Much of my work is inspired by its people and culture and the city itself,” she said. “As an adult, I’ve lived there three different times, and my family and I go back as often as we can.”
Fitzgerald was born in a hospital in Meridian, Miss., hospital being the operative word. “At the time, my dad was a forest ranger in the mountains of Arizona and my parents lived on the station, 50 miles from a paved road, not to mention, a hospital,” she said. “Home births weren’t exactly ‘in vogue’ at the time, so my mom opted to come to her hometown of Meridian, Miss., to have me in a hospital…on a paved road.” Fitzgerald’s father soon joined them in Meridian, worked on the family dairy farm for a few years and then took a job with the U.S. Government’s soil conservation service. The family lived in several small Mississippi towns before settling in Collins in the southern part of the state.
After high school, Fitzgerald attended college at Mississippi State University with the intention of studying landscape design and following in her fathers’ footsteps. “My dad was sure turf grass management was the career path for me, and, hey, why not?” she joked. But she was so taken with the required art classes that she switched majors to graphic design and painting and attended the New Orleans Academy of Fine Art.
Fresh out of college, Fitzgerald worked as an advertising illustrator for DH Holmes in New Orleans. “Everyone aspired to draw fashion, but artists had to work their way up…towels, appliances, footwear, eventually fashion,” she said. “I did finally put the graphics degree to use in an ad agency’s production department, but after three years, found I didn’t like sitting at a desk and moved on to sell contemporary furniture, and eventually serve as an interior designer in the store.”
In her career, she’s also been a party planner, a set designer, a landscape illustrator for a house plan magazine, an art teacher for children, and later, a graphics teacher at a technical school and a faux finish painter and muralist for 10 years with her friend, Andrea Wills.
By being flexible, Fitzgerald has been available to her three children with husband, Bill: Phoebe, 17, Augusta, 14 and Jack, 8. “At times that path has been scary, especially in our most recent economy,” she said. “I wasn’t trying to be bold; I was just always trying to do what I was good at and what I enjoyed. I think that is the most important aspect of any work we set out to do, and I wouldn’t change any of it.”
She would like to spend more time painting canvases though. “For me, she said, “that is the most rewarding creative outlet. Recently, I had a two-year, part-time stint as sales clerk in Art Outfitters. I was able to brush up on my lapsed knowledge of art materials, and I had the benefit of speaking with many local artists on a daily basis. The inspiration I drew from those artists drove me back to painting more and participating in more art events.”
When it comes to fashion, Fitzgerald’s style may not mirror her artwork, but it is certainly inspired. “The woman who had the biggest [fashion] influence on me lived in Collins and was one of a kind. She wore big Faye Dunaway hats and sunglasses to the local Piggly Wiggly. Her living room had painted white brick walls and a plastic white tree and a yellow leather sofa with black accessories. She bought beautiful fabric when she traveled and had my grandmother make couture outfits from 20-piece Vogue patterns,” Fitzgerald said. “I once borrowed a pair of Gucci black leather boots from her to finish off my ‘casual wear’ outfit for the local junior miss pageant. She was ridiculed and gossiped about, and she was wonderful. Her name was Lucy, and I named my first daughter the same.”
The Art of Fashion
Soirée: Artistic style?
Tanya Fitzgerald: “Early on, my work was very realistic and tight. Later, I became fascinated with the human form, and the work that produced was flowing, feminine and much softer. For the past three or four years, I have become interested in very large canvases in an abstract, expressionist style.
Jean-Michael Basquiat’s neo-expressionist work has definitely influenced my figures, and he often incorporated words into a piece. Chagall, Kandinsky and the decorative qualities of Klimt are favorites for inspiration. I never feel a piece is finished until I draw or write into the wet paint. The first time I ever saw a Cy Twombley piece, I was amazed at his ability to blur the line between drawing and painting. His canvases are like a student’s notebook scribbles. I also love the broad, flat, figurative paintings of Alex Katz and the advice he gives is to ‘paint faster than you think.’ I keep that in mind and think it produces a truer, more emotional painting than those I overwork, overthink.
Favorite things to wear?
A great skirt (I love Nannette Lepore) and a white t-shirt with a statement-making piece of jewelry. My friend, Jeri Warlick, creates beautiful ‘sculpture’ necklaces. Wear one to a party, and it is a guaranteed conversation starter with everyone you meet.
What color do you look best in?
I love anything green, and I think it’s my best color. Or at least I feel best wearing it.
What style do you wish would make a comeback?
Capes are making a comeback this fall, and I want one. Few items you wear make a more dramatic entrance!