Tony Fitzpatrick

Gallery A

Tony Fitzpatrick amalgamates sources from a tough vernacular—tattoos, gang signage, street graffiti, prison art, and Catholic holy cards—into densely choreographed pictures that accelerate in frenetic rhythms. His pedal-to-the-metal compositions always opt for more, jamming his drawings and prints with a glut of mesmerizing doodles. Fitzpatrick's form of horror vacui manifests itself in an incessant intensity that has more than a little to do with brinksmanship.

Beyond the pose of manic bluster and gruff facade, Fitzpatrick is an heir to the venerable tradition of art as a vehicle for the expression of belief. In the “Holy Slang” series, he works in ink and gouache on pages ripped from a Bible. The concept itself carries a sense of petulant sacrilege, and the naughty imagery he applies to the pages bears that out. But while Fitzpatrick defaces the Good Book itself, he celebrates the rich iconographic impulse in Roman Catholicism. Each small page is dominated by a different symbolic figure from his personal demonology—creatures such as a strutting pig, a stag beetle, and a disembodied hand that don't exist in Christian tradition but whose representation here is deeply indebted to it. They are encircled by a retinue of freely invented attributes: The Ice Dog, 1997, for example, shows some hellhound surrounded by an arsonist, ghosts, star charts, a duck, and a Chicago P.D. badge. The stream of caricature swirling around the figure of the dog is silly and sacrilegious, charged equally by vitriol and wit, but paradoxically reinforces the solemnity of what it aims to obscure. This might be faith disparaged, but it is faith nonetheless, and Fitzpatrick's images are more tantrum than critique.

Some of the central figural elements from the “Holy Slang” series reappear in “Nickel History,” a group of tiny (all three-by-two inches) etchings and aquatints. Although these works share much of the same imagery and organization as the “Holy Slang” pictures, their titles refer to the artist's early life in Chicago, suggesting that this series functions as a kind of metaphorical, stream-of-consciousness autobiography. More sedate and restrained were the beautiful pictures from Fitzpatrick's ongoing series of flower studies. Here the artist is engaged in the observation of nature rather than the reduction of all his sources to vernacular sign. Still jammed to all four edges with incident, this group of prints is nonetheless marked by an air of sensual grace and mellifluousness. In Passage Flower, 1997, for example, the plant unfolds in bursts of floral-based pattern that make Fitzpatrick's characteristic radiating elements more organic to the picture. While the pace is still breakneck, these compositions have a feeling of measured contemplation, serving as a foil to the frenzy of irreverence that surrounds them.

James Yood