Big-Hearted and Bawdy: Tony Fitzpatrick’s “Dime Stories” Speaks Truth to Power

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Tony Fitzpatrick/Photo: Paul Elledge

By Amy Friedman

“Whatever you do in this life, make sure you’re the only one who can do it,” Tony Fitzpatrick’s father advised him in the third grade, and hell if he didn’t listen. Artist, author and actor are but a few of his titles, and there’s no doubt that no one can do what Tony does.

“Dime Stories,” the soon-to-be-released foul-mouthed, straight-talk collection of Fitzpatrick’s Newcity columns speaks truth to power, and we’d be wise to heed its warnings and take its advice. Fitzpatrick rails against waste, criticizes the sellout of our political institutions to big money, laments the proliferation of mass shootings and parses various other elements that lead to injustice. These essays examine with sharp focus and acerbic wit our true nature and that of our changing city, rife with new dangers and old problems. Read the rest of this entry »

Nonfiction Review: “My Florence: A 70-Year Love Story” by Art Shay

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florence shayRECOMMENDED

Chicago photographer Art Shay—the same man who photographed royalty, presidents, sports figures and historical moments like the 1968 Democratic Convention—now presents us with a collection of photographs featuring his “beloved wife and model,” and owner of Titles, Inc. for more than thirty years, the sprightly Florence Shay.

One of the very first photographs in “My Florence: A 70-Year Love Story,” is from the Shays’ 1944 honeymoon, in which a twenty-two-year-old Art in U.S. Air Force uniform looks upon his beaming bride with enormous adoration in his eyes, clearly enamored. He looks grateful to be in such close proximity to someone so beautiful and full of life. The photographs in Shay’s latest collection portray his late wife’s brimming effervescence in that same spirit of reverence and love. Read the rest of this entry »

Nonfiction Review: “Awake in the Dream World” By Audrey Niffenegger

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“As a child,” writes Krystyna Wasserman in her introductory essay “Swept Away by Magic,” “[Audrey] Niffenegger spent hours alone in her bedroom, dreaming, drawing, reading and writing.” Years later, those childhood pursuits became an adult career, spanning multiple creative disciplines. Now, fans of Niffenegger’s books and art have the chance to explore a kaleidoscopic cross-section of her work with a handsome volume of her visual art.

The collection serves as the catalog to an exhibition of Niffenegger’s work on display this summer at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, located in Washington, D.C. Her first major museum exhibition, the mid-career retrospective opens June 21 and runs through November 10. Featuring almost 250 works of art ranging from artist books, to graphic narrative work, to stand-alone illustrations, the exhibition is a substantial showcase of a diverse body of work.

For those who can’t make it to the museum, “Awake in the Dream World” offers a microcosmic alternative. In addition to the art excerpts, the book features three essays by Wasserman, the exhibition’s curator, Niffenegger’s colleague and Art Institute of Chicago curator Mark Pascale, and Niffenegger herself, shedding both insight and context on the history of her creative development. But of course the serious point of interest in the book is the art itself. Read the rest of this entry »

Art Book Review: “The Complete Record Cover Collection” by R. Crumb

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Robert Crumb might have the public persona of a cranky, creepy curmudgeon, but when it comes to music, he enthuses without reservation. That is, of course, as long as it’s his kind of music, which skews toward nearly forgotten blues and jazz artists of the first half of the twentieth century. His cover for Janis Joplin’s Big Brother and the Holding Co.’s “Cheap Thrills” is iconic, and no doubt he could have illustrated the pick of the rock ‘n’ roll litter over the subsequent years had he wanted to. But with the exception of a few things for the likes of the Grateful Dead and Frank Zappa, he’s wallowed in intentional obscurity, which makes this collection all the more valuable. Read the rest of this entry »

Art Book Review: “Lady Gaga x Terry Richardson”

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When you think of the photographer Terry Richardson, you think of, what, perversion and controversy? Of a photographer often more famous than his subjects? Of an artist whose personality is larger than life, a phenomenon entirely of his own manufacture? The matchup of Richardson and Lady Gaga—he traveled with her for ten months of unrestricted access to her life on and off stage—seems to promise either spectacular success or colossal failure. Could it really fall in between? Apparently. The handsomely designed book is devoid of text or captions, save a very short intro from Gaga. The net effect tends to preserve the otherworldly artifice of the Lady Gaga creation—even when she’s eating pasta, or brushing her teeth, it’s stylized. Read the rest of this entry »

Picturing Progress: The Light and Dark Side of Technology

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The story of American warfare for the last century has been one of technological advances propelling us ahead of our adversaries and, sometimes, spinning off applications that have meaningful implications for peaceful society as well. (Most notably, the internet, which evolved out of a Department of Defense undertaking.) Recent advances, like the use of drone warfare and the alleged but widely believed joint US-Israeli creation and deployment of the Stuxnet computer worm to devastate Iran’s nuclear development, seem to have ushered us firmly into a reality drawn straight from science fiction. We treat these advances with passive interest, or even some level of cheerleading for the home team (no American casualties!). That is, until other countries catch up and force us to confront what we have wrought, as the New York Times recently suggested in a piece headlined: “Coming Soon: The Drone Arms Race” in response to China’s high-profile display of their own drone development this summer. Read the rest of this entry »

Personal Museums: New art books in review

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Julius Shulman: The Last Decade

The photographer Julius Shulman probably had as much to do with the perpetuation of the LA style of home design as did any of the architects he deified with his images. Read the rest of this entry »

Event Preview: Alex Ross

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Artist and local resident Alex Ross is one of a very short list of comic-book artists working in the superhero genre anymore with a truly idiosyncratic visual style. Particularly notable is that what others draw, he paints. So his new sketchbook, “Rough Justice,” wherein he too draws, in preparation for painting, is revelatory. This guy could easily work with pencil and ink alone, since his “roughs” are often on a par with, nay superior to, the finished work of many of his peers. Equally interesting are the insights into the creative process, as practiced by the mainstream comic book industry these days, that emerge in his descriptions of some of the projects that never saw the light of day, such as proposed creation of an imagined son of Batman, called Batboy. It’s all fanboy fantasia. (Brian Hieggelke)

Alex Ross signs copies of “Rough Justice” at Chicago Comics, 3244 North Clark, June 5 at 3pm.

Personal Museums: New art books in review

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If the artwork that you hang upon your walls is a kind of self-curated gallery, then the art books on your shelf form a personal museum, a selection of works reflecting interests, if not ownership, either due to limitations of resources or desires. Many art books are born as exhibition catalogues but come to function as something else; a record, perhaps, of what the eye once saw, but also an opportunity to consider the work in a different time frame, whether that be duration, frequency, or simply its passage. Here, then, a few new offerings in consideration.

“The Rockabillies” by Jennifer Greenburg (Center for American Places at Columbia College Chicago, 100 pages, $50): Thanks in large part to the influence of Diane Arbus, the photographer who documents human subcultures too easily turns them into freakshows, with a detached, often ironic distance that shelters the image maker from the image. Greenburg, a Chicago photographer, admits to being a voyeur into rockabilly culture (all photogs are, by definition), but from a unique perspective: she is a wholehearted participant. Read the rest of this entry »

Nonfiction Review: Wrigley Field: A Ballpark Pop-Up Book

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Neither a children’s book nor a diehard’s reference, this promotional tool for Major League Baseball is a large legal-sized hardcover with a dozen pages of text and color photos that range from the iconic to the chest-bumping. The third in a series, preceded by Fenway and The Mets’ Citi Field(!?), “Wrigley Field: A Ballpark Pop-Up Book” contains Wrigley history, significant Cubs games and milestones, stats, non-baseball moments, team leaders and a pop-up of the field that, aside from the scoreboard and lights, looks pretty generic. It’s interesting but not impressive. Let’s hope for more on the field this season. (Robert Duffer)

“Wrigley Field: A Ballpark Pop-Up Book”
By David Hawcock
Universe Publishing, 16 pages, $25