Tony Fitzpatrick has been drawing birds in various fantastical forms since childhood—influenced by his grandmother who told him that, “for the price of a piece of bread, you can hear God sing.” He combines bright colors and wild plumage into imaginative species or modern day harpies—the hybrid bird-women of Greek mythology. Most recently he has collaged together meticulous portraits of individual species from the nuthatch to the lark. In Fitzpatrick’s typical style, each animal is centrally framed on the page and surrounded by a dense network of eclectic marginalia, which enable the birds to function as cipher for places and ideas.
A Chicago native, Fitzpatrick’s interest in animals (both real and grotesque), comic book characters, and folklore recall the early vernacular pop of the Hairy Who and Chicago Imagists, who came to prominence in the 1960s and 70s. He frequently marshals this colloquial style into incisive social criticism that addresses issues of inequity and injustice, and celebrates the marginalized and stigmatized.
Etchings such as Path of Thieves and Trail of Tears lament the forced displacement of First Nations people. More autobiographical etchings celebrate the subcultures of his beloved windy city. While prints of the hobo alphabet, such as Man with a Gun, revive a lexicon of pictograms developed by migrant workers after the Civil War to communicate the dangers of life on the road. Fitzpatrick turned to this visual language in wake of the recent recession and explains, “what has always touched me about this set of symbols is how it united a culture of powerless people; how humans in any dire circumstance find a way to communicate.”