Tony Fitzpatrick is flying high. Literally. The Chicago artist is this morning flying to New York City to join an event at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where the rock n roll-themed “Play It Loud” exhibit includes two of Fitzpatrick’s album covers.
Fitzpatrick made a name for himself in the City of Big Shoulders by having the attribute that Chicago prizes most—realness. He boxed and bounced and waited tables, all while creating electrifying outsider art. By the late 80s, he was getting solo shows in New York and in his hometown, where he and fellow local artists Steven Campbell and Theresa James opened Big Cat Press in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood. Fitzpatrick was a seven-day-a-week presence at Big Cat, nurturing countless artists and providing a kind of salon for the city’s indie aspirants of all disciplines. (My band The Lilacs played a memorable show at Big Cat in 1993.)
Even as his career as an artist took off, Fitzpatrick spread his creative wings, attracting attention from filmmakers drawn to his raw style. His friend Jonathan Demme cast him in Philadelphia and Married to the Mob and he also acted in Primal Fear and Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq. (He currently appears as Jack Birdbath in the Amazon spy series “Patriot.”) He is also a respected playwright, winning a Jeff Award for portraying the perpetrator of a McDonald’s massacre in “Mass Murderer” a play he wrote about the deadly mass shooting, back before those seemed to be a weekly occurence. In 2009, the Chicago alt weekly Newcity named Tony Fitzpatrick the “Best iconic Chicago personality now that Studs (Terkel) is gone.”
All the while, Fitzpatrick continued creating art with a chaos and energy that all but leapt into three dimensions. Inevitably, his work attracted the attention of some of the greatest musicians around. His art has graced the covers of records by Lou Reed, The Captain Howdy (Penn Jillette’s band), and the Neville Brothers, for whom the Yellow Moon cover was nominated for a Diamond Award. His album cover art is perhaps best represented by Fitzpatrick’s long association with Steve Earle. Fitzpatrick has done all of the singer-songwriter’s album covers since 1996’s I Feel Alright.
Now, one of those album covers is appearing in a new show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Steve Earle’s new record, Guy, is a tribute to the great songwriter Guy Clark, who mentored Earle. The cover is an impossibly lush, orange tribute to Steve Earle & The Dukes, to Guy Clark, but also to Fitzpatrick’s interests, such as birds and dogs and baseball. It’s the kind of Rorschach test that makes any music fan – or art fan – long for the 12-inch canvas of LPs.
Well, those who can’t enjoy the art at proper scale on the product can now see it hang at one of the world’s most august institutions. “Play It Loud” is running from April 8 – October 1 at the Met.
Fitzpatrick told the Fine Art Globe, “To be a small part of this amazing institution leaves one without adequate words. It is at once humbling and genuinely edifying and renews one’s desire to remain worthy of this honor.”
Tomorrow, April 12, from 6 to 8 pm, fans can come to the Met’s Mezzanine Gallery for “The Original Prints of George Condo, James Grashow, and Charlie Hewitt.” There will be music and drinks and an opportunity to meet Charlie Hewitt and get his sig on copies of “Androscoggin.” Attendees will also get to meet Tony Fitzpatrick and several of the other artists whose works will be on display, among them Oscar Abolafia, Randi Solin, Carol Wax, Chuck Webster, rock photographer Michael Zagaris, Iranian-born Taher Asad-Bakhtiari, Richard Bosman, Eduardo Fausti, Helen Frank, Richard Haas, Wendy Mark, and Mitchell Schorr.
The Met already owns some of Fitzpatrick’s etchings, including this amazing etching. It might be the single most stirring piece of 9-11 art I’ve ever seen, and I’m hoping it will somehow earn its way onto permanent view sometime soon. But for now until October 1, visitors to this important exhibit will have a chance to see two great contributions from a unique American voice.