Founded in 1992 by Chicago artist Tony Fitzpatrick, Big Cat Press is located at 2124 North Damen in Chicago's Bucktown neighborhood. The space acts as studio for the artist, occasional exhibition venue and training ground for Chicago's brightest young artists. I have visited the studio on a handful of occasions and feel that Big Cat is a modern day salon, where music, art, literature and ideas are available to all. The setting is fitting given its proprietor, a hard-working artist loyal to his work and his city. Mr. Fitzpatrick is a Renaissance Man, an actor, an artist, a poet and outspoken pillar of Chicago's artistic community. His original works are allegories of a time gone by. Found materials, mixed media and clippings of ephemera converge to tell the artist's story. Fitzpatrick's passion and talent have brought him international success. He is frequently exhibited in New York City, and his works are in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art, the National Museum of American Art in Washington DC, and prominent private collections throughout the world. In 2008, he took part in New Orleans' "Prospect.1," an international biennial aimed to revitalize the still damaged town.
Tony Fitzpatrick carries a wealth of knowledge and experience. He is not only a valuable resource for Chicago, but also for the city's young artists. Fitzpatrick is a steadfast supporter of the creative youth, employing only artists at his studio and acting as their guide into the tumultuous art world. Encouragement and promotion are two things the self-taught artist generously offers. His goal is to show them how to make a living as an artist, introduce them to collectors, to become self reliant and create a business model that is outside of the gallery system. These are valuable attributes Fitzpatrick himself learned from famed Chicago artist Ed Paschke. Paschke introduced Fitzpatrick to the ‘hard truths' that face living artist and now Fitzpatrick wants to return the favor. Fitzpatrick feels that the problem with galleries today is a "poverty of imagination" and would like them to be more collaborative. Galleries should not necessarily be an enterprise, but part of the community. That is why he keeps an open door policy at Big Cat. He strives to fill the void in Chicago by providing an alternative for artists that he believes in, creating a dialogue between them and his collectors.
Michael Pajon, The Ghosts of Winter Birds Rush West, mixed media collage, 12 x 5 1/2 inches. Courtesy of the artist.
Such was the case on May 2, 2009. Tony hosted a studio show featuring the work of eight artists he feels are up and coming in Chicago. The opening was packed that Saturday as artists, collectors and friends gathered for beer, conversation and relevant art. There was no pretension and no wine or cheese; a different scene that your typical gallery opening. There was an opportunity to speak with the artists, Tony and his friends. Despite the drab economic times, the evening was a success. Most of the works sold and it is important to note that Tony takes no commission.
Jared Joslin, Tanzerim, oil on canvas, 22 x 28 inches, photograph courtesy of the artist.
The eight artists presented innovative and thoughtful work. The show included work from Dmitry Samarov, Jared Joslin, Jessica Joslin, Damara Kaminecki, Renee Robbins, James Descant, Michael Hoffman, and Michael Pajon. Their work was vibrant and fresh, all dealing in different media and themes. Jared and Jessica Joslin, a married couple who live and work in Chicago present very different formats. Jared paints illustrious portraits of mavens and gents straight out of Hollywood circa 1930. Inspired by this lost era, Joslin's characters are sensual and full of intrigue. His wife Jessica, builds intricate creations of hardware, bone, brass and other objects that toe the line between Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park and Tim Burton's Corpse Bride. They are delicate and fantastical; her playful sculptures are a conversation piece. Michael Pajon, Fitzpatrick's studio manager draws from experiences that are undeniably Chicago. Like Fitzpatrick, Pajon tells a story through imagery and collage. The layered works are sophisticated and engage the viewer. He uses contradiction as a foundation for each piece. Similar in technique, but vastly different in subject is the art of Renee Robbins. Her body of work, aptly titled, Pocket Pods, feature small format mixed media works that she describes as molecular, celestial and cultural systems. I had the pleasure of speaking with Robbins earlier this month, another reason why Big Cat's experience is so unique. Robbins work is made from gessoed board, acrylic, cut paper, marker and string. It deals with relations between environment and identity. She is highly focused on her process, and describes it as intuitive, working in layers with multiple textures and forms.
Renee Robbins, Pocket Pod 121, acrylic and mixed media, 6 x 6 inches, photograph courtesy of the artist.
This model for the promotion of art is both intimate and refreshing. As someone working in the art community I hope that Mr. Fitzpatrick will offer more opportunities like the studio show in the future. To learn more about the artists mentioned, visit their websites or stop by Big Cat Press. The door is open Monday through Friday from 10am-7pm. Additionally the artists discussed above maintain their websites here:
www.sighn.net (Matthew Hoffman)
www.deluxerocketships.com (Jimmy Descant)
--Robyn Farrell Roulo
(Top image: Tony Fitzpatrick, The Penny Poker Bird)