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Wilcoxon & Fitzpatrick @ Jack Fischer

Wilcoxon: Always Look on the Bright Side, 2013, mm on linen, 52 x 48" 

Spontaneity and calculation, fantasy and fact alternate in this superb show of two artists whose differences, while substantial, reflect a shared faux-outsider approach.  SF-based Heather Wilcoxon, who holds an MFA from SFAI, builds expressionist gestures into cartoonish representations of humans, animals and alien spacecraft – the results being decidedly Neo Expressionist.  Chicagoan Tony Fitzpatrick, an autodidact and polymath (actor, master printmaker, tattoo artist, former boxer), offers jewel-like collages built from vintage matchbooks and other printed matter that once promoted nightclubs, stores and defunct consumer goods.  His works provide a gritty, nostalgic view of mid-century America, rendered in the manner of the Hairy Who artists (Jim Nutt, and Karl Wirsum) whose influence on him is obvious, but not so much as to feel derivative.  He's definitely part of that movement's second generation.  

Wilcoxon paints and draws on linen, paper and wood and on swatches of linen affixed to paper. Where figures and animals appear, they lean toward the grotesque, with bulbous heads and ungainly bodies, often with spikes protruding from the skin.  Vehicles have the look of Sputnik-era spaceships drawn by a child.  Another reoccurring form, tentacles with eyeballs, suggests surveillance and/or paranoia, indicative, perhaps, of an interest in Symbolism or the occult.  (One also thinks of the comics of Robert Crumb and Ed “Big Daddy” Roth.)  Another side of Wilcoxon is romantic.  We see it in boats painted in loose, sure strokes; they give off a lyricism that stands in sharp contrast to the angst and dark humor seen elsewhere.
 
Fitzpatrick: Lunch Drawing #30, The Winter Lark, 7 1/4 x 9 1/2"; Wilcoxon: Ship, 2013, oil on wood panel 8 x 10"
 
Angsty or buoyant, Wilcoxon appears to be having fun.  You can see it in the exuberant gestures that undergird everything she does.  Strong examples are the mock-futuristic Into the Light, with its Jetson’s–like architecture, built of wobbly lattices; Broken Up, where skyscrapers sprout like swaying palms out of a boat; and Nothing Makes Sense, in which a monstrous shape resembling an inflated pig recalls the primordial figures seen in Dubuffet’s Corps du Dame.  
 
The Sky at Ohio # 7, Walking Adena Ghost, 7 1/2 x  10 1/2" 

Fitzpatrick’s small-scale collages bombard the senses with a surfeit of detail set against contrasting backgrounds that make the collaged elements leap out.  They’re dominated at the center by heraldic images (bird, human or animal) and surrounded by cut out elements culled from the artist’s enormous collection of printed memorabilia, bequeathed to him by his late father to whom he was close.  That relationship imbues his pictures with deep nostalgia, and you needn’t walk in Fitzpatrick’s shoes to feel it.  

Anyone with an affinity for film noir or even a passing acquaintance with the Chicago-based literature of this period (Saul Bellow, Upton Sinclair, Studs Terkel) will be drawn to these collages, sucked in by the associations (stockyards, seedy bars, all-night restaurants, smokestack industries, railroads and neon signage) they conjure without actually describing.  In the margins, Fitzpatrick appends lines of text that function as legends and sometimes titles, further deepening an already magnetic pull.  Each unfolds an imaginary tale, usually of unmet emotional longings punctuated by cheap come-ons of every description.  The effect produced is of walking a carnival midway, assaulted by barkers hawking transient pleasures.  You can also hear music.  Many of Fitzpatrick’s collages are peppered with notes.  I don’t know what melodies they spell out, but in my mind I hear strains of Howlin’ Wolf’s Smokestack Lightning.  Like Wolf’s songs, Fitzpatrick’s works allude to raw emotions, but promise, beneath their lurid skeins, redemption in what Tom Waits called "the narcotic American night."     
–DAVID M. ROTH
 
“Winter Work”: Tony Fitzpatrick and Heather Wilcoxon @ Jack Fischer Gallery through March 15, 2014. 
 

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