The Austin Chronicle


Local Arts Reviews

Reviewed by Rob Curran, March 23, 2001, Arts

The Remembered City: Fitzpatrick's Day

Slugfest Gallery,

through April 15

In unforgettable style, Tony Fitzpatrick addressed the national printmakers conference in Austin: "A lot of you printmakers are bitching and whining about not being recognized as artists. Shut the fuck up and start making art."

Shared memory bonds people. Tony Fitzpatrick shares snippets of his memory in a show of his intaglio prints (engravings on a metal plate stamped onto paper) at Slugfest. Color etchings, such as Medusa's Ball, recall the long card games and short romances of Fitzpatrick's days as a doorman and boxer in Chicago. Snakes radiate from Medusa's crystal ball within the Ace of Spades, and from there, fortune spirals up and down every print in the room. In other color pieces, Fitzpatrick borders two portraits of black women with keyholes. One of the women appears to be a half-remembered stripper, about to discard her love-heart bra.

In the small room, the black-and-white prints outnumber the colored. The title of the monochrome collection Bum Town comes from a nickname for the ghetto on the far South Side of Chicago where Fitzpatrick fought his way up. Boxcar pilgrims earned the neighborhood its name; many still gather there by the railroads to begin their flight south. Visions of Bum Town past guide Fitzpatrick as a printmaker and as a poet. Last summer, The Chicago Tribune published some of Fitzpatrick's poems and prints in tandem. "The poems are not captions, the etchings are not illustrations, they are independent parts of the same body of work, they come from the same muse," says Fitzpatrick. He perceives the etchings as a narrative in pictures, like Hogarth's A Rake's Progress.

Unlike Hogarth's straightforward history, however, Fitzpatrick's narrative cracks in all directions like the brickwork in each print. A faceless White Sox hitter, a circus elephant bewildered by barbed wire, a well dressed lady made of bricks -- this story smells like urban decay. Fitzpatrick's love of his childhood and his home warms these icy subjects. Some of these creatures and buildings would scare the shit out of a romantic; Fitzpatrick etches the good, the bad, and the ugly from his neighborhood. The artist treats Crack Girl, a young lady transforming into a black-veined insect, with the same affection as he does the gumshoe detective, made of bullet-riddled bricks, in The Invisible City.

The poetry of Bum Town relies on the same honesty and memory. In "Bottle Gangs," the poet captures childhood wisdom: "Who built the pyramids? Mayor Daley built the pyramids." An ode to the vibrant Irish community in the South Side, "The Dead Still Talk in This City" gives a voice to people who witnessed starvation, miracles, and exile, whose history has been predominantly oral. These stories have power, impossible to forget, demanding retelling. Bum Town survived the grit; in Slugfest, it's alive, a powerful place to visit.

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