New York

Tony Fitzpatrick

Todd Capp Gallery

This rogues’ portrait gallery stars dozens of infamous American killers, such as Richard Speck, Fred Cowan, Ed Gein, Susan Atkins, Dick Hickock, and John Wayne Gacy. The art is as gruesome as one might expect, but not in the way one might anticipate. Fitzpatrick invokes the degenerate power, brooding violence and despair, and litter of life’s broken and beaten casualties. He casts their tormented condition in a strangely sympathetic light. What makes the images so vital and arresting is the tone of true, unprejudiced compassion. Instead of looking down from a culturally superior perch, Fitzpatrick finds the bottom of the bottomless abyss and roots his impressions in its scarred terra firma. In this oppressive atmosphere of rejection, alienation, failure, and impoverishment, he explores the smoldering detritus of twisted dreams, unsatisfied desires, and defiant transgressions.

These murderers join the artist’s legions of struggling wounded—the battered boxers and junkie whores, the harmless drunks and walking time bombs, the has-been heroes fallen from grace and the never-was small-time losers. Fitzpatrick uncovers the wild demonography of the soul not by looking outside, but, like any great portraitist, within. The ultimate horror these images hold is in their insistence on a commonality, if not of experience, of desire. The murderers are indeed ugly, even outright repulsive, with their pale greenish skin tones and crawling shrouds of roaches, snakes, tarantulas, and ghosts symbolizing their private demons. Fitzpatrick never attempts a romantic glorification of these criminals. Stripping them down to their underwear, he’s simply trying to look at them and understand them as people rather than mythological bogeymen. What he finds is the same inarticulate dissatisfaction and emptiness that cripples his less violent antiheroes. These criminals are shown to be victims as much as villains.

The artist’s lowlife esthetic is inseparable from his Chicago-area background. Fitzpatrick is also an “outsider” artist, meaning he is self-taught, outside the privileged class values of education, elite high-art esotericism, and the tastes of the professional art market. For the outsider, artmaking is usually a catharsis, and the cryptic, voodoolike symbols that pile up in Fitzpatrick’s pictures seem to be as much his own demons as they are those of his subjects. In this charged landscape, the Other, living beyond the rational realm of civilization, appears as a mystical figure—saint, angel, martyr, devil, or innocent. In Fitzpatrick’s social parable of temptation as tragedy, each fallen, misguided, and lost soul stands directly facing us, caught as if in a trance. What malevolent spirit has taken possession of this creature? Some will recognize it as the horrible, secret face of our greatest god, the American dream, when the fates turn to furies and expectations into anger and despair.

Carlo McCormick