Many Chicagoans have passed by Tony Fitzpatrick’s North Damen studio in Bucktown – an area that has changed considerably in the 17 years he has been working there. Beginning this week, the 1,900 square foot workspace, formerly known as Big Cat Press and that functioned as Fitzpatrick’s studio, will be converted to a new commercial gallery operation called Firecat Projects. They will kick off their inaugural exhibition this Friday, November 19, with Tony Fitzpatrick's The Night Parade, featuring new work from 2010. A show he said was “a way of saying goodbye” to the space he has worked in for so many years. He will continue to produce work out of his home studio, but he will no longer work so publicly on his art again.
Fitzpatrick and his long-standing business partner, Stan Klein, have exhibitions lined up through 2011 at Firecat featuring artists from all over the country, including a few Chicagoans. Klein runs the publishing business at Firecat, as well as the exhibition space, and says the work they’ll feature will vary in media, and all the artists exhibited will have solo shows which will rotate monthly. They’re all artists that Klein and Fitzpatrick have always thought should be shown somewhere, and Firecat is proud of the artists and of the engaging work they’ll be able to publicly share with the community, in some cases for the first time.
Firecat operates under an alternate model from conventional gallery standards: while remaining a for-profit entity, exhibiting artists will fully profit from sales – there is no dealer commission, an arrangement that is practically unheard of in today’s traditional gallery system. Fitzpatrick and Klein’s goal is to take the middleman out of the art-selling equation, empower their exhibiting artists by doing so, and perhaps create a new model for what the gallery and the artist can accomplish. Potential collectors would presumably benefit from more meaningful contact with the artists producing the work since artists would be more directly involved in sales. Firecat will continue to produce promotional materials, prints, posters, and will host opening receptions for new exhibitions. As Fitzpatrick puts it, “they will be selling popcorn at a movie theater… they will run a non-commission, for-profit business.”
This kind of gallery model will undoubtedly start new conversations and debates, though the opening of a new gallery and a home for an artist’s work is welcome news in today’s economy. This new concept is unusual and stands apart from the norm, which is why Fitzpatrick wanted to do it - to challenge some established members of the art world a bit.
Chicago’s art community is comprised of many different levels, personalities and missions, so there should be room for new ideas and messages. Firecat could be the kind of model that could fit in well in Chicago between the varied alternative spaces run by recent art school graduates and other artworld figures, and established galleries that have operated for years and worked with some of the most recognizable artists of the past and present. Fitzpatrick has had his own thoughts about dealers and galleries for many years, and to those who know him, he is not shy about sharing his point of view. Firecat will allow his voice, and the voices of the exhibiting artists, to be heard in a more formal way.
Fitzpatrick has established a reputation as a strong, soulful, prolific Chicago artist, writer and actor whose work has been featured in exhibitions and collections nationwide. He has plans for a theater performance this summer titled Stations Lost, a follow-up to This Train, a play he wrote and starred in, performed at 16th Street Theatre and Steppenwolf Theatre last year in Chicago and Brooklyn. Stations Lost will be a continuum, answering questions about the concept of “home” and who we are as Americans in the world, as well as including touching and humorous bits of personal history and stories from the artist. A new book of his work including excerpts, poetry and art featured in the performances is available at Firecat, along with many other printed materials and artwork.
For more details on Tony and Firecat Projects, visit tonyfitzpatrick.com and check out Tony's blog.