A look at Tony Fitzpatrick and his birds in his “Jesus of Western Avenue” exhibition running through Jan. 31 at the Cleve Carney Museum of Art at the College of DuPage.
I first heard Tony Fitzpatrick on Steve and Garry 30-plus years ago.
Many things came up in their wide-ranging conversation, though not birds.
But birds are central to the more than 100 works of Fitzpatrick in the “Jesus of Western Avenue” exhibition running through Jan. 31 at the Cleve Carney Museum of Art at the College of DuPage.
The birds made sense after I thought to the last time I saw Fitzpatrick two years ago at Martyrs’ for a showing of Bob Dolgan’s original “Monty and Rose” video on the famed piping plovers at Montrose Beach.
Fitzpatrick’s collages are intense patches of images and words, but there’s a knife of darkness in even the most whimsical. If you’re an outdoors sort with an arts bent, I highly suggest going, but this is not John James Audubon’s painting of an American white pelican, more Paul Klee’s “Landscape with Yellow Birds.”
Fitzpatrick is an alum of COD, which fueled his wide-ranging interests in the arts.
That wide range shows in his collages.
In homage to collages, here are snippets from the exhibition. I barely touch the breadth of images, words and meanings.
- The “First Radiant Seabird” has the word cormorant among the collage pieces, but the glowing white bird has little relationship to the thousands of cormorants I’ve seen over the years, other than webbed feet. I suspect that choice of color and presentation is deliberate to combat the ugly darkness of cormorants in the United States, where they are widely hated and slaughtered. (Other cultures have a different relationship to the bird.) I also suspect that I am not picking up all the threads of meaning Fitzpatrick has in that collage.
- Several works with crocodiles or lizard-like creatures make me wonder if Fitzpatrick is playing off the alligators pulled from the Humboldt Park lagoon in the summer of 2019.
- I don’t know why but I really liked the snippet of “ ‘Tick-Tock Assholes, Tick-Tock’…” juxtaposed against Biblical imagery and language in “The Coming of Locusts.” And I found the grasshopper, central to the collage, one of the most striking images in the exhibition.
- I’m not sure of the meaning, but one recurring image is of guys with cigs draped from their mouths, from working-class stiffs to rich men.
- “Chicago Nocturne (Autumn jazz)” combines such images as birds, a rose focal point, and human/creature and human/flower hybrids. For me, it was the central work in the exhibit, though “The Watchman of Humboldt Park (I, Apostle)” is probably more out front and visually striking.
- The relative simplicity of “The Green Mill” is not about birds, but it brought back a sharp memory from my single days. After looking for meteors during “The Perseids” at Montrose Harbor, I tried to impress the woman with me by taking her to the Green Mill, where owner Dave Jemilo always greeted me by name. That part worked. But when we came out, the cap on my pickup was open and all my fishing gear was boosted. On a good note, it forced my cheap ass to buy better gear.
It was time.
I cleansed my palate by walking the Russell R. Kirt Prairie, an 18-acre natural area. The only birds were a large flock of starlings. I wanted to impose meaning, but came up empty.
Tickets are free, but you need to order ahead at theccma.org/tony-fitzpatrick.
On Sunday, Jan. 23, Fitzpatrick will be in conversation with Steven Conrad at 3 p.m. in the Belushi Performance Hall. It’s $10; go to theccma.org/tony-fitzpatrick-tickets-jan-talk. Afterward Fitzpatrick will sign copies of his new book, “The Apostles of Humboldt Park.”