Artist Tony Fitzpatrick comes full circle with College of DuPage exhibit

  • Artist Tony Fitzpatrick, a Lombard native and former College of DuPage student, will return to the school this fall with the opening of his exhibition, "Jesus of Western Avenue."

    Artist Tony Fitzpatrick, a Lombard native and former College of DuPage student, will return to the school this fall with the opening of his exhibition, "Jesus of Western Avenue." Courtesy of Peter Rosenbaum

 
 
Updated 6/17/2020 5:38 AM

It's hard to square Tony Fitzpatrick the Renaissance man with Tony Fitzpatrick the golf caddie.

A prolific artist, Fitzpatrick draws, paints, writes poetry and makes collages about city living and everyday neighborhoods in Chicago.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

His art has covered the albums of rebel rockers Lou Reed and Steve Earle. He's most in his element contemplating the virtues of places like Manny's Deli or Milwaukee Avenue, before it was, in his own words, "taken over by nose rings, man-buns and the tyranny of cyclists."

Averse to bros and authority figures, Fitzpatrick and his Irish mischief would seem out of place lugging golf bags.

But in another life, his stint caddying at the Glen Oak Country Club near Glen Ellyn marked the beginning of a friendship with like-minded soul Cleve Carney, the late philanthropist and art collector who supported his career.

"He was a good guy, and he liked everything that was good in life," Fitzpatrick says.

The Lombard native and former College of DuPage student will come full circle this fall when he returns to the Glen Ellyn school for the opening of his exhibition, "Jesus of Western Avenue."

Fitzpatrick's works are in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art.

Tony Fitzpatrick is known for creating prints based around birds, as reflected in "Chicago Stone Bird (She Stares Down The Ghosts)."
Tony Fitzpatrick is known for creating prints based around birds, as reflected in "Chicago Stone Bird (She Stares Down The Ghosts)." - Courtesy of Tony Fitzpatrick
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After achieving that kind of recognition, Fitzpatrick, 62, says his COD show in the renovated and expanded Cleve Carney Museum of Art will be his last solo museum exhibition.

But he see it less as a turning point and more as a tribute to Carney and the COD mentors who helped him find his footing as an artist.

"It was one of those places where I got permission to go become an artist in whatever terms I chose," he says.

A working artist

Fitzpatrick met Carney when he was a teenager caddying for his dad, Marv, who owned a bakery and then a bunch of bakeries. The elder Carney, a serious, stern man, asked Fitzpatrick what he wanted to do with his life. Fitzpatrick told him he wanted to become an artist.

"He goes, 'My kid's into that. There's no money in that,'" Fitzpatrick remembers.

But he bonded with Carney, then a law school grad who encouraged him to see shows at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art and later collected Fitzpatrick's art.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
The College of DuPage's Cleve Carney Museum of Art will feature more than 30 works by Tony Fitzpatrick, a prolific Chicago artist who created this print, "Stone Cold 1964 (The World as Cartoon)."
The College of DuPage's Cleve Carney Museum of Art will feature more than 30 works by Tony Fitzpatrick, a prolific Chicago artist who created this print, "Stone Cold 1964 (The World as Cartoon)." - Courtesy of Tony Fitzpatrick

"We became pals and he checked in on me as I started to surface and have a career," he says.

Fitzpatrick claims he wasn't a good student at COD, though that may be up for debate.

"I have spoken with some of his teachers who recall how much he really stood out," said Justin Witte, the curator of the Cleve Carney Museum of Art.

Fitzpatrick did his first acting at COD in a production of "Waiting for Lefty." His resume now includes performances in the Tommy Lee Jones vehicle "U.S. Marshals" and the Amazon Prime series "Patriot."

His instructors instilled in him the importance of words and that he could put whatever he wanted into his work.

"I tend to think of College of DuPage as where I was able to set my compass and realized I wanted to be a working artist and hopefully an actor at the same time," Fitzpatrick said during a virtual studio visit hosted by Carney's namesake museum. "The greatest thing about it was nobody there ever told me you can't do that."

Moving forward

Fitzpatrick spent his time in self-isolation making puzzles out of his intricate collages -- the jigsaws sold out within minutes -- and working on his book, "Jesus of Western Avenue."

The first part is a collection of short stories, a kind of love letter to the people who built Chicago, a "big kitchen sink kind of book all held together by the idea that we should place our greatest premium on human kindness."

Tony Fitzpatrick's works are in the permanent collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art.
Tony Fitzpatrick's works are in the permanent collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art. - Courtesy of Tony Fitzpatrick

The "corona diary" he's kept during the pandemic fills the last part of the book. Its release will coincide with the Oct. 3 opening of the COD exhibition of the same name.

In many ways, Fitzpatrick, a serious birder and introspective artist, was particularly suited to life in quarantine.

"I've been more productive than I was before the pandemic," he said.

He's known for creating prints based around birds, a theme that Witte, the curator, says will resonate with audiences who have found solace in the natural world during virus closures.

"He really layers his strong kind of graphic skills and then printmaking skills, using a language taken from comics and popular culture that really appeals to a broad audience with the written word, with poetry layered in meaning," Witte said.

The expanded museum will provide plenty of room for social distancing. But Fitzpatrick knows it won't be the usual exhibition opening.

"And you know what? I don't care," he said. "You've got to move forward. The one thing that's a constant, the one thing that survives, the one thing that proves you cannot kill ideas is that art goes forward."

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