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Tony Fitzpatrick talks about his drawing-collages and favorite books

Readersvoice.com aims to give people a few good reading tips. You might want to check the archives for previous issues, too.For the February edition I spoke to Tony Fitzpatrick, a Chicago artist who creates drawing-collages.He combines text and drawings with things like old ticket stubs from baseball games, gambling slips, matchbooks, and wrappers.The drawing-collages tell stories about Chicago, and are a personal diary about his life there.He is intrigued by stories in general, especially oral history.He gave me a great list of some of his favorite books, too, so read on...

Tony Fitzpatrick grew up listening to stories about Chicago from people like his father James.
And he has used various art media to tell these stories, from etchings, to poetry, to his drawing-collages.
His book Bumtown (2000, Tia Chucha Press), is a tale of a journey he takes through Chicago with the ghost of his father, revisiting places, observing changes, remembering an uncle who died as a boy trying to jump a freight train during the Depression.
“Bumtown is about a neighbourhood in Chicago,” Tony Fitzpatrick said.

“Bumtown is a poem…one long poem about Chicago…It’s based on when I was kid. I’d be kicked out of school so I’d have to go to work with my father.

“And my dad sold burial vaults. So we would go from funeral home to funeral home all over the city and Bumtown is kind of a story about that ride.”

His visual art work also tells stories about Chicago.
Tony Fitzpatrick’s art is in the collections of places like the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Once known for his print-making, he has turned his hand from etchings to drawing-collages.
Each picture is about the size of a page of a book, combining drawings and text with artefacts like old baseball game ticket stubs, matchbooks, naked lady playing cards, postcards and wrappers, to tell stories about Chicago.
He started with this medium in early 1998 when his father, James, was seriously ill with skin cancer.
James had a box of things like matchbooks, old lotto tickets, and gambling slips, and Tony Fitzpatrick incorporated these into drawings of white flowers.

The white flowers were a reference to the white flowers James saw every day in the funeral business.
Tony Fitzpatrick made other collages made of the stuff of their lives together, like rain-check stubs from ball games, and this resulted in his The Music of the White Flowers series of drawing-collages.
He continues to use the drawing-collage method to tell his own story of his life in Chicago.
I interviewed Tony Fitzpatrick by phone on January 13, 2005, just after he had returned to Chicago from Brooklyn, New York.
He had just attended the opening of his latest exhibition, The Wonder: Portraits of a Remembered City, at Pierogi 2000 gallery in Brooklyn, New York.
READERSVOICE.COM: Generally what sort of things do you like to read?
TONY FITZPATRICK: Ah, boy, that’s all over the map, you know. I like to read a lot of stuff.
The thing I just read that I really loved was Bob Dylan’s autobiography called Chronicles…I loved that book. I just finished that.
I like James Ellroy a lot. I’ve read all of his.
A lot about art..A biography on Willem de Kooning (Dutch-born American Abstract Expressionist Painter, 1904-1997 – ed.) I just bought. I haven’t read it yet.
RV: You like stories about Chicago. Do you think modern Chicago has stories and characters as interesting as the old Chicago?
TF: Yeah, it’s on-going, you know. History isn’t something that happened 40 or 50 years ago.

It’s something that’s happening right now. It happens every day, it’s happening as we speak.

RV: Do you often talk to old guys..?
TF: Oh, yeah.
RV: ..in bars and things like that.

TF: Not in bars anymore. I don’t drink anymore, I had to stop.
But, yeah, I have an ongoing dialogue with a lot of guys that are in their 80s and 90s.

RV: And do you often look up old newspapers in libraries and things like that?
TF: Not really. Not really. I kind of get it verbally, you know.
I’m lucky enough to know Studs Terkel who’s one of the great oral historians in this country.
And he’s a wealth of knowledge about Chicago and the stories here.
RV: His story would be good to get on its own, wouldn’t it?
TF: Yeah, it sure would.
RV: In your collages how can you tell a story with a picture? Is it more like an impression of memories you have or can you somehow structure a plot within the confines of a picture?
TF: I think the idea of the drawing collages is to suggest many narrative possibilities.
To suggest a lot of narrative veins, a lot of stories happening at once. They’re more like a diary.