Tony Fitzpatrick: Max & Gaby's Alphabet
October 1, 2002 – December 15, 2002
“Tony Fitzpatrick: Max & Gaby’s Alphabet,” an exhibition featuring a series of twenty-six four-color etchings organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, was on view from October 1 to December 15. Fitzpatrick, a Chicago-based printmaker, actor, and poet, created the series of prints for his two children, Max and Gaby. Printed at Fitzpatrick’s Big Cat Press in Chicago, the series of prints and the resulting exhibition were used to launch Fitzpatrick’s Children’s Art Initiative, a program developed to fund art programs in Chicago-area public schools, providing underserved children with the basic materials necessary for the making of art.
The tradition of treating the alphabet serially in prints is one that dates back to the early history of printmaking in the West and has been an important form throughout the history of children’s literature. Fitzpatrick’s series includes a print for each letter of the alphabet. The subjects used to represent each letter were chosen by his son Max and daughter Gaby. For example, A is for Atomic, B is for Bat, and C is for Caterpillar. Vibrantly colored, Fitzpatrick’s etchings are teeming with images drawn in his characteristic style, a style informed by sources such as circus posters, tattoo art, and folk art. Although each letter is represented by a single, central image, Fitzpatrick has filled every available space on the sheet with highly imaginative imagery. So, for example, among the elements seen in D are a drum the Dalmation plays and four dice at the dog’s feet. The print also features a galaxy of planetary, molecular, organic, and figurative forms, all brimming with a swirling and life-affirming energy.
A consummate raconteur, Fitzpatrick is an artist for whom storytelling lies at the heart of his work. His love of and gift for the art of storytelling is the legacy of Fitzpatrick’s late father, James R. Fitzpatrick (1925-1998). As a youth, Fitzpatrick often accompanied his father, a burial vault salesman, on his rounds through the streets of Chicago, where the elder Fitzpatrick regaled his son with the stories and lore of the people and places they encountered. His father’s transmission of the city’s culture through the medium of the story has profoundly influenced Fitzpatrick’s life and art. For Fitzpatrick, it was a gift of inestimable value. In no small way, Fitzpatrick’s creation of an alphabet for his children represents a perpetuation of that gift. Language is central to the art of storytelling, and the letters of the alphabet are the basic elements that make language possible. For Fitzpatrick, sharing his love of letters, language, and life is one of the greatest gifts he can bestow on his two greatest works, his children Max and Gaby.
The exhibition was accompanied by a catalogue featuring full-page color reproductions of all twenty-six prints and essays by filmmaker Jonathan Demme, exhibition curator Lynne Warren, and Mickey Cartin.