Fitzpatrick, Tony


Q:  Okay, we’re recording.  All right, now we’re both recording.  We’re sitting with Tony Fitzpatrick, I’ve known Tony, not as long as I wish I have, I mean maybe five, six years of knowing each other, pretty well maybe seven. 

TONY FITZPATRICK:  We’ve been aware of each other for a long time.  I certainly remember your gallery and you know, spotted your galleries at the art fairs for the last 20 or so years. 

Q:  I think what’s significant about Tony’s and my relationship is how much I’ve learned from him.  Because Tony, I think, is a consummate artist who takes really solid responsibility for his art and his career.  And I’ve come at this as a former art dealer and as you listen to Tony you’ll realize that he doesn’t have a lot of love for most art dealers and I think with good reason.  

There’s a lot you know, there’s an awful lot of the art world who thinks we would be better off if we didn’t have artists.  You know, there’s a huge flaw in that equation and I think a lot of the reason I’m doing this class is about seeing artists empowered and I think a lot of that is it really coming from Tony and I think the notion, I mean I think a lot of artists enter this course thinking having an art gallery and an art dealer is a desirable thing and I’m not of that opinion.  

I think it might be and it depends on the person and taking responsibility for that and one of the very reasons that we want to meet with Tony first is so that he can talk to us about taking responsibility and how art dealers are working for you if you have one or they should by working for you and that is shouldn’t be some other sort of arrangement.  Your turn.  

TONY FITZPATRICK:  That’s a really good place to start.  I think first of all I want to preface these comments with the fact that I’ve been well served by the art dealers that I have had.  The ones I have now, Pierogi in Brooklyn we have a 35/65 split, which is I think is more than equitable. They have done wonderful work for me.  

They put me in the Museum of Modern Art.  So they did for an artist what they’re supposed to do.  They also did something else though, which is the thrust of what I want to talk to you guys about.  Pierogi saw their mission is two pronged.  

In addition to helping out individual artists, they built their gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, they were open in 1993 and that’s where I first met Joe Amrhein, who started Pierogi and the reason he built is there is because that’s where all the artists lived.  It’s the same reason why Willy Sutton robbed banks, that’s where the money was. And what he did was he galvanized that community.  

When Pierogi first opened, they took only 20 percent and they had this great big space and they involved everybody that was part of that community.  And then as it went on, he realized it was a much bigger community than he could possibly accommodate with regular show schedules. So he brought up the idea of getting several series of flat files and he said, look you’re not ready for prime time yet, but I would love to have you in the flat files and have work on paper.  

So on any given day to this day and in Pierogi’s whole history, people have been able to walk in, look through the flat files and get works of art that are prayed anywhere from 75 dollars to 2000 dollars to 2500 to 175 bucks.  He also, you know, in addition to galvanizing that community of artists and including them, gave birth to a whole new generation of collectors. You know, we’re surrounded by art.  

When I was a little kid I was surrounded by it but nobody ever bothered telling me what is art.  I was surrounded by comic books, by tattoo shops, horror movies, you know, things that New York curators 30 years later decided for you and I, what was high art and what was lower art.  Joe had an innate ability to find a place in those flat piles for all of the different kinds of artists.  

There was work on paper and it was limited in the flat files.  But pretty soon this community built around those ideas and he watched artists come along and gradually improve their craft until they were ready for a one person show.  And then he did something interesting, he opened it up to artists from all over the world. And you know, in Brooklyn, we all became part of that community you know, and we were welcomed into it and every time I walked into a Pierogi Institute it was like walking into a living room full of my friends.  

That kind of emboldened me after 17 years of having a studio on Damen Avenue, to giving it back to the public you know, and I think that the importance of that is twofold.  We show artists, we take no percentage of their sales. We all do other things for money to pay for that.  

I do CD covers, I do signs, T shirts, posters; it’s interesting to figure out that the movies make their money not on the (inaudible) film, that all goes back to the studio.  They make their money selling popcorn. So what we’ve been doing is making some very attractive pop corn and we started publishing our own that we produce revenue because I think the room, the physical gallery itself that thing now it sacred to me and it’s worth protecting.  

It also does something else, the public can come in, in a neighborhood, you know, it’s not that the artists (inaudible) some art mall or some museum or an institutional setting it’s part of their neighborhood and I think that’s so vitally important.  I think we have to be able to look around our neighborhood and see that artists are part of it. You know, the public didn’t walk away from us; it was quite the other way around.  

We decided to live up to all the stupid myths and suffer away in our garrets, for the greater good of mother art.  Well bullshit. Artists are part of the community just like cops, waitresses, guys with squeegees, meter maids, tree trimmers.  We serve a purpose and in that community if we’re not visible, the fault is ours, not theirs.  

I start every one of these things and Paul and I have done a couple of this particular seminar and other things like this together, telling all of you the same thing; that the best access that you have are each other.  That what no one artist can do by them self, three or if four of you can get together and you can move mountains.  

You can foster a sense of community.  You can build something bigger than yourself and it will be good for your work.  Are all going together able to make a living as artists, no you’re not. In fact maybe two out of you will.  Maybe two out of you already are. Maybe you’re luckier than that.  

Nobody promises you a living as an artist, it’s like everything else.  Eventually the people that buy art, the people that show art, they decide what your fate is going to be.  Embrace the fact that this is going to be hard; it’s supposed to be hard.  

Be grateful everyday as an artist that it is hard.  If it was easy any asshole could do it. This is supposed to be hard.  This is a hard thing to do.  

If you have a choice about whether you’re an artist or not, don’t do it.  This is for people who have no choice. This is for people who absolutely have to do this.  

That being said and you’re still with me and nobody has thrown anything yet  there are a number of ways you can help yourself. First of all, you know, for all of the invective I’ve been accused of for heaping art dealers, the truth of it is, is that that’s a very hard job and it’s a hard job to do equitably and the truth is no art dealer is supposed to take on the responsibility of being your mom.  They’re not here to take care of you.  

The best of them forge collaboration with the artist.  You know, they don’t form a gallery association and turn into a merchant class.  The best dealers have a dialogue with you about your work.  

So, ideally maybe what you need is not so much a dealer, the conventional picture that is going to change very, very, fast.  I’ve already done it. I have a partner he runs the gallery he handles my business.  

We discuss what would be most equitable.  He has the dialogue with my collectors. I have lots of them.  I can’t be on the phone all day. As far as our strategy for selling, when I finish a piece I scan it.  We send it off to our collectors.  

If it’s a New York collector that I share with Pierogi Gallery we split the sale with them you know, our standard fee.  They handle me in New York; I handle me the rest of the world. So usually I get a 100 percent of my sales unless it’s a New York sale that Joe and I happen to share the client.  

This is again something you can do for yourselves.  I’m sure all of you, at this point in your life, have sold a piece of art, am I right?  Okay you haven’t, who else hasn’t ever sold something they made? Okay, so we’re pretty much in the league of professional artists here.  

There’s a lot you can do for each other.  I realize at this point you’re all in a seminar together and you don’t really know each other really well.  But I’m betting three or four of you will have a certain kind of affinity, a certain kind of dialogue. You can help each other you can trade email lists, you can share Intel, you can share what you know.  

What kind of gallery is going for this kind of artist, what kind of gallery is good for that kind of artist, if you see something that may not benefit you but it may benefit your pal over here you give him a heads up.  In short, what I want to teach you to do is act like a community and a rising tides will lift all of you.  

I would love to, from one of these seminars, see a few artists get together and say you know, why don’t we rent a store front?  Why don’t we see how this goes? Why don’t we do for ourselves? I’m not a fan of grants.  

The few times I’ve been nominated for them I’ve made them withdraw my name.  I don’t believe government and the arts is a good mixture. Look, they do lots of good stuff.  The NEA has fostered much noble artwork for myself, I feel it’s a carrot on a stick and 20 years ago they showed us the stick.  

The minute they rescinded Karen Finley and Flecknor and Holly’s grants over content  sorry they showed us that it was not ecumenical. So I’m a big fan of artists getting together and helping each other.  I think when you guys had, years ago; it was a very, very good model. I think what we have with Fire Cat is a very good model.  

We don’t take any percentage from the artist we tend to think of other ways to make money and that’s an interesting thing, you begin to find out how resourceful you are.  You begin to realize how important it is to be able to do business for yourself. Luckily, you know, I’m very fortunate that my work has a very graphic component and I’m able to use it for things like I did a couple of signs.  

The Big Star sign, the Three Aces sign, I do all of Steve Earle CD covers.  I’m fortunate in that there are you know, double purposes that provide a lot of revenue with which to support the gallery with.  But also  

Q:  You don’t have to be pure with how your art goes or how it gets seen? 

TONY FITZPATRICK:  You know, I don’t know what pure means.  I remember in 1988 I got commissioned to do an album cover for a band from New Orleans called the Neville Brothers.  They were one of my favorite bands, I did it. I started to hear this sell out thing behind my back then.  

Well at least I had something to sell.  Now that I am in MoMA, I don’t hear that so much, nor do I care.  Look one thing is going to happen when one of you succeeds and one of you don’t succeed at the same rate you do.  You’re going to hear things that are unpleasant.  

You’re going to hear it the catty remarks, it’s water off a duck’s ass, it’s part of the territory.  The best way to inoculate yourself from these kind of things is to do something for other artists once you’ve had a little bit of success.  Hold a hand out for next person. Provide an opportunity for people who aren’t quite there yet, you know. And doing something generous helps you immensely as an artist.  

It opens your heart you know, I think what you can do to better sell your work is make sure it’s there in front of people.  You have to be visible. And that’s up to you. You know, when artists, after a long endeavor, decided they have failed they don’t have anybody to blame but themselves.  

I’m sorry, but that’s just the way it is.  This requires work. You know, and having a career if you can’t do that work yourself, then you partner up with somebody who can look up with your best interest.  When you get too busy with your own work then you can’t do business yourself, you delegate that responsibility to somebody else.  

I have five employees, two of them their job is merely minding the internet you know, talking to dealers, talking to  I make (inaudible) talking to my agent for that stuff, that’s their job. The other person’s job is to drive me around because they took my driver’s license.  Drive through one fucking house you know.  

Glen Hendricks is a primary collage assistant.  She sits next to me and we when I’m making my work and need things glued or cut, or anything, she works along side me.  The secret is what you have when you have a career, what you cannot do alone, you hire people; hire the right ones. 

Q:  You have to have the money to do it.  

TONY FITZPATRICK:  That’s not my fault.  Or something else. Or you do it for them.  One day you’re their assistant. Next day they’re your assistant.  I’m sorry money is a bad excuse. It’s easy to get. 

Q:  Used interns.

TONY FITZPATRICK:  My interns are all paid I’ve never had anybody that worked for nothing.  I don’t believe it’s fair. When you put this kind of responsibility on people working in your career their entitled to be compensated.  

I think art schools are really scummy this way.  I think it’s the worst thing in the world not paying kids for their time.  You know, Michael (inaudible) started out as my intern at 7.50 an hour and a year later he was running the place.  I only believe in interns if they are paid positions.  

Q:  The quality of their help probably makes a difference.  


Q:  They’re not getting paid  

TONY FITZPATRICK:  You know, when I’m not getting paid for something, I’m, you know, I’m less interested than when I am getting paid you know.  I would do this if I got paid or not I mean I always did.  

You know, the fact that I got a career is really a happy accident and I have a feeling when you guys start getting paid for your careers, it’s going to be on the goofiest thing you’ve ever heard and you’ll be at the laundry mat you’ll let somebody have that machine, they’ll be nice to you.  

You have a conversation; you find out that they’re Holly Solomon.  That happened. That happened to a painter. Holly Solomon came over and looked at his work and said “Jesus, I love this.”  You know, it happened over a laundry mat.  

It happened over a small kindness.  Big narratives are what define cities; small kindnesses are what hold them together.  What I’m saying is you need each other and I hope you don’t walk out of here and forget that.  You know, what you can’t do by yourself you know. I have a list of excuses artist have for not pushing their careers forward.  

One of them is I don’t have the money more that; get it.  You know? Or trade. You know, if you don’t have the money for it you get three or four people together and you get a space and you curate your own shows.  

How do you think other galleries come to evolve?  You know, there’s always the model of the rich involve themselves culturally.  Okay that’s a little bit of them. Mostly it’s a few people that has a gallery, one of them gets pissed off at the other two and says you’re fucked and goes and opens they’re own show.  That’s how most galleries happen.  

That’s how Chelsea happened, you know?  The reason Chelsea succeeded is because Tom Blackman used to run the Chicago Art Fair and wouldn’t let some of the Chelsea dealers in.  One of them, Paul Morris, has been instrumental in the thing they have here at the Merchandise Mart, four of those dealers, Colin de Land, Pat Hearn, Paul Morris and Matthew Marks decided to open the Armory Show and then that became the best fair in the world.  

So, there’s always conflict.  There’s always friction. There’s always bone deep grudges.  If you can channel those things into positive things, you can you know, move mountains.  

Now, look I’m going to go around the room and I’m going to find out a little bit about what each of you do and then I’ll tell you how you can improve your career or get a career and I hope you listen.  What do you do?  

Q:  My name is Cameron; I’m a painter, and  

TONY FITZPATRICK:  What do you paint?  

Q:  I’m an oil painter; I paint abstract images with a basis in like human biology.  And I’m currently I don’t know how much you want me to do.  

TONY FITZPATRICK:  (Inaudible) one person show. 

Q:  One person show, not technically like in school I guess.  

TONY FITZPATRICK:  What school. 

Q:  Well after I went to under grad I went to Wesley College I did a print making assistantship in Venice and after that year was over I had like a one person show of that work in Venice and that’s the only one I’ve ever had that was a one person show and it’s over  about ten years ago? 

TONY FITZPATRICK:  Okay, two years where would you like to see yourself. 

Q:  I would like to see myself in kind of a larger community.  I think one thing I have trouble with is sort of I think so much about making the work that I spend most of my time in the studio and I don’t feel like my community is big enough.  

TONY FITZPATRICK:  You sold paintings, correct?  

Q:  Yes.  

TONY FITZPATRICK:  Okay, your next question should be to find somebody, since you’re a studio rat and you’re always making work, find somebody who can help show your paintings around to galleries or to collectors or whoever. 

Q:  I think I want to be better about getting foot traffic in my studio.  

TONY FITZPATRICK:  Where’s your studio. 

Q:  Kedzie and Carroll? 

TONY FITZPATRICK:  Is it a store front?  

Q:  No.  

TONY FITZPATRICK:  Get one. That’s the best idea.  

Q:  Okay.  

TONY FITZPATRICK:  Get one (inaudible) I have a public studio for 17 years and you know, what all kinds of people wandered in.  People who weren’t even interested in art, people who I learned so much from you know, I learned you know, a whole thumbnail history about where I’ve lived in the world and just people wandering in and out and they were curious about art.  

I made an immense amount of friendships.  I became friends with Paul because he just wandered into my studio once day.  Public spaces are very good for artists. They also teach you how to make the public realize something very important, that what you do is about them too.  

You know, you get that dialog.  And they’re not interlock (inaudible) they are no art dealers there are no curators, there’s no institutional fuckheads standing in your way it’s you and the public having a conversation about what you do and why it’s important.  What’s your name? 

Q:  Joanne? 

TONY FITZPATRICK:  What do you do? 

Q:  I make paintings and drawings based on text and image based paintings and drawings? 


Q:  Not quite as  mine are a little bit less readable.  Little bit less they’re more atmospheric.  

TONY FITZPATRICK:  I’m amazed that you think mine or readable.  Oil I take it. Where are you from? 

Q:  I was actually born and raised in Chicago? 

TONY FITZPATRICK:  Okay so you’re part of our community here. 

Q:  Yes.  

TONY FITZPATRICK:  Where have you shown before?  

Q:  Last year I had a solo show at South Shore Arts and then I found an empty space and arranged a solo show well actually four solo shows; we each had a room in River North.  

TONY FITZPATRICK:  Good idea. Did you make some money?  

Q:  I made future contacts.  

TONY FITZPATRICK:  Okay that’s good. There’s two kinds of economy in the art world.  The money one is important; we all have to eat. But the vitally, more important one is the good will bank.  You always want to be depositing in the good will bank. You want to do as much in settings like that as you can.  

Q:  I know I was just mentioning there was another microphone for you.  

TONY FITZPATRICK:  That’s okay. I’m not going to hold the microphone.  The good will bank is how artists get stuff done, how they work together.  You know, Fire Cat, I opened it because I thought there was a bunch of artists that I thought deserved more attention.  

   I made a list of them over about two years and when Stan and I finally decided to turn the space back over the public, I contacted every one ever those artists and I offered them what I thought was the really good thing a gallery can offer an artist, a one person show with very few exceptions, that’s what we’re going to do.  

That’s the one line on a resume that does help artists you know, in the very beginning get you know, emerge or whatever surface or make themselves visible.  A one person show is a good start and I thought and if I didn’t take their money they can keep they’re work reasonable to a point where it would be attractive for people to buy.  

So they can make some money and they will have had a one person show and we do a poster for them.  My delinquents go out and we paste the shit out of the neighborhood and you know, believe me every time Fire Cat has a show nobody doesn’t know that we have an opening that night.  We use all of the social utility.  

We use Facebook; we use My Space, (inaudible) video, UTube, when we need to.  These are things you can do to help yourself. I’m glad you and three other people got together and held a show in River North.  That’s a positive thing, that’s a good thing.  

What you can do to make is it better is do that again.  You know, work really, really hard, get a group of your contemporaries together do it again and I’ll tell you what, each of you pitch in 50 bucks and hire a publicist.  Hire somebody who is really, acutely aware of the currency of Facebook.  

The blogs, Art Letter, our last opening, Paul reviewed Jenny (inaudible) who’s a marvelous artist, I’ve admired her for years, I’ve collected her work and we finally gave her a one woman show in Chicago and that night it was about five below zero and you know, what we had a packed house.  It was marvelous.  

People will come out and that was just from a review in Art Letter and working Facebook and working the hard currency of our age is not money anymore, it’s information.  Who has it first, best and who puts it across with the most charm, the most levity and the most intrigue. You know, you give the public something cool to go to and always never charge for the beer.  Always have a little something to eat.  

If you’re going to power alcohol done people’s throats always have something to eat, so they don’t get into a car and kill somebody on the way home but you never charge for the beer you get good beer.  There’s a kid who has a website that does nothing but rate the snacks at openings, the doesn’t even look it fucking work he just rates the snacks but you know, what, we won Snacks of the Year. (Inaudible) January.  

But what you want also is when the public shows up you want to make sure that they’re treated absolutely like gold because you need them.  Whether they ever buy anything or not is irrelevant. What they’re going to do is go out and say you know, I went to an art opening last night it was great.  It was little bit of food, there was good beer, I saw some cool art and it didn’t cost them anything. That’s part of the contract that we have with people.  

   It may cost people to become the custodian of a piece of art for a life time, but it shouldn’t cost you anything to go and look at it and let it speak to them.