Tony Fitzpatrick grew up on the South Side of Chicago, where his father was a burial vault salesman. A student of the Catholic School System, Tony would be repeatedly suspended, or transferred, as a result of his bad behavior. On days when he was kicked out, and because his mother also worked outside the home, he would ride along with his dad to sales appointments. It was during these times that his father would tell stories about his own life and Chicago, shaping the way Tony would begin to see the world. Tony found these time so exciting that he would intentionally get suspended so that he could climb in the car with dad.
As a child, Tony always drew. Birds were especially important to him because his grandmother used to say, “For the price of a piece of bread you can hear God sing.” Tony went to New York in the 1980s to experience the burgeoning art scene, spending much of his time in Washington Square Park selling drawings on the sidewalk. Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat became early supporters, buying his art and introducing Tony to New York galleries.
The Neville Brothers saw Tony’s work and, thinking he was a black artist from the South, approached him to do an album cover. Tony did the Yellow Moon cover, which he credits with launching his career. Within a year, much of the contemporary art world had become familiar with his work. The Nevilles also introduced Tony to New Orleans and he began spending a lot of time there, feeling a sense of belonging in a city that embraced artists, misfits and the down-and-out. Around this time, Tony began showing in galleries in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and London.
Tony then met Steve Earle and began doing album cover work for him since the 1996 release I Feel Alright.
In September 2007 Tony was awarded a solo show at MOMA’s PS1, and in May 2008 a 10-year retrospective titled The Wonder, Portraits of a Remembered City opened at The Chicago Cultural Center.
Being invited to participate in the first New Orleans Biennial (Winter 2008-09) gave Tony the opportunity to pay homage to the city with which he feels so closely linked.
Tony Fitzpatrick’s works are in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Miami. He is an accomplished poet and has published several books of his art and poetry, including The Hard Angels and The Neighborhood. As an actor he has appeared in numerous films, including Mad Dog and Glory, Philadelphia, Primal Fear, Married to the Mob and U.S. Marshals. Tony is a Chicago legend—a one time radio personality, former boxer, bouncer, and bartender—known today as a self-taught artist, poet, occasional actor, and all-around great guy.
INSIDE THE STUDIO: TONY FITZPATRICK