CHICAGO — Chicago artist Tony Fitzpatrick will bring his signature brand of witty visual repartee to the DePaul Art Museum this spring with a display of his collage series “The Secret Birds.” The exhibition will run May 12-Aug. 21, 2016, and is the largest presentation of his work to date with more than 50 of his intricately layered collages as well as 40 prints from the DePaul Art Museum collection that span more than two decades of the artist’s career.
In his ongoing series “The Secret Birds,” Fitzpatrick meticulously draws and layers images, poetry and found materials onto the page. He combines inspiration from his working class roots in Chicago and influences from folk art, comic book characters and tattoo imagery. Each drawn collage depicts a specific species of bird, ranging from the peregrine falcon to the common starling.
Several of the works are commentaries on gun violence, drug abuse and other inequities and injustices found in Chicago and beyond. “The birds play symbolic roles, some delivering otherworldly messages and cautionary tales,” said curator Laura Fatemi, associate director of the DePaul Art Museum. Other works eulogize Fitzpatrick’s influences, including writer Roberto Bolaño, musician and Chicago blues legend Otis Clay, and his own father.
“Tony celebrates the beauty of the natural world in ‘The Secret Birds’” said Fatemi. “The Artist’s Studio” section of the exhibition will feature items from Fitzpatrick’s studio, including the ornithological reference books he has studied and his carved wooden bird collection.
A Chicago native, Fitzpatrick draws on the history and lore of the city, as well as popular culture and his Irish Catholic roots. He is a self-taught artist, playwright, actor, poet and essayist and a consummate raconteur, said Fatemi. “Tony’s astute observations and contemplations of his surroundings reveal and celebrate the magic, beauty and wonder of the world around him,” said Fatemi.
Printmaking has played an important part in Fitzpatrick’s development as an artist. In 1992, he founded a printmaking workshop, Big Cat Press, in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. The operations have moved and changed over time, but printmaking remains an important part of his work.
Fatemi has grouped some prints with Chicago subject matter from a series titled “Remembered City.” These images take the viewer on a journey through the streets of Chicago and reference the city’s history and landmarks, including the Chicago Stockyards. “Tony is a chronicler of the city, and the view of Chicago he expresses in prints and poetry is historical, political and intensely personal,” said Fatemi.
The exhibition includes selections of Fitzpatrick’s work from the DePaul Art Museum’s permanent collection, and more than 30 private collectors have contributed their holdings. “These works encompass a range of ideas and showcase a sampling of the visual trajectory of the artist over the past two decades,” said Fatemi.
An opening reception will be held for “The Secret Birds” and another exhibition, “Barbara Rossi: Poor Traits,” May 12 from 5-8 p.m. A discussion with Fitzpatrick and Chicago Tribune writer Rick Kogan, known for his compelling takes on the city, will be held May 23 from 6-7:30 p.m. These events are free and open to the public.