Tony Fitzpatrick once said that Studs Terkel was his biggest influence as an artist. This is worth bearing in mind when you see his works, which are full of the collaged detritus of the everyday life of times past in Chicago: matchbook covers, tramcar tickets, comic books, postcards, notes and chords cut out of old sheet music. This technique is put to brilliant and moving effect in works like “Music of White Flowers,” three strange compositions whose story you know but find hard to put into words. In most of the works, there is a central drawing or emblem, which seems like the point of departure for a chiseled little poem running down the left side in a narrow column. The poems are good, and the fragments of collage surround them like precious waste in a midden, or like jewels. There is also a whole Chicago bestiary here: an elephant named Hannibal of Chicago, the Champion Beast and the Chicago Tiger, a “six-toed black licorice cat.” Surrounding the central icon are bodybuilders, go-go dancers, clowns and old pen-and-ink newspaper drawings of faces, images of what passed for glamorous or distinctive back then. And then there are the matchbook covers. Many of these were given to Fitzpatrick by a cash register repairman named Red Hogan who, in a fifty-year career, picked up a matchbook from every joint he went to on a repair run—every restaurant, hotel, swanky club or dive. He died in April of last year. About his matchbook collection Hogan once said, “I covered a lot of ground and have everything from the ridiculous to the sublime.” Fitzpatrick has done full justice to Hogan, transfiguring these relics of those dives and dens of iniquity into monuments of memory of the old city. (David Mark Wise)
Tony Fitzpatrick, “The Wonder—Portraits of a Remembered City,” shows at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 East Washington, (312)744-6630, through June 29.