George Fitzpatrick,Artist


The art of George Fitzpatrick, it has been said, lies somewhere between conceptual art and illuminated manuscripts. A sense of written language as something unutterably precious pervades the meticulously handcopied texts that form the heart of his work.

It is not difficult to imagine the determined and intense child who grew up to become George Fitzpatrick. Singlemindedly devoted to art at an unusually early age, by junior high Fitzpatrick had won seven gold keys in scholastic competition for his artwork, and by high school he was taking seven electives in art, making up the prerequisites at night school. His art teachers at Cleveland’s West Tech High School provided the structure and technique for his artistic odyssey, but his real mentors were those denizens of the Cedar Tavern in New York’s Greenwich Village, the abstract expressionists whose rebellious persona and radical vision shaped the young artist.

Adopting the gestural style favored by Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning, Fitzpatrick worked by day in a local theater and painted at night in the studio. A breakthrough to his mature style of word drawings occurred in 1974 when he encountered a two-volume book, Nineveh and its Remains, by British archaeologists Austin Henry Layard and Flinders Petrie, who had unearthed ancient texts in Mesopotamia and Egypt. Seeing the finely drawn calligraphic script inspired Fitzpatrick to recreate the concept on a large scale. The process of transforming script through precise and exact marks into a visual language opened up a new formal territory that Fitzpatrick has never abandoned. He claims he never will.

Fitzpatrick, an avid reader, next tackled ancient Greek text, translating Homer and Virgil into meditative, linear compositions enriched by the nuances of textured paper, colored ink and rhythmic patterns. In homage to his intellectual and artistic heroes, Fitzpatrick seeks to retell their stories in his own private language. The indecipherable text lends an air of mystery and discovery to the viewing experience.

More recently, symbolic codes have informed Fitzpatrick’s work—the number of marks or lines on a page reference personal mementos, such as the age of his father when he died or Fitzpatrick’s age when his mother died. Never evident to the eye, these systems nevertheless introduce an autobiographical dimension that feels appropriate to the quiet, almost spiritual, intensity of the work. Indeed, the painstaking copying, the meditative quality of his practice, combined with esoteric subject matter, places Fitzpatrick in the lineage of such spiritualist-minded modernists as Alfred Jensen and Agnes Martin and suggests strong affinities with the more ritualistic forms of art associated with non-Western cultures.

Fitzpatrick’s recent body of work transcribes poems of Tu Fu, the Tang dynasty Chinese poet (AD 770). These indecipherable texts are unspeakably beautiful, masterful minimalist compositions of passion. The pleasure of viewing these works is perhaps best expressed by Cleveland Plain Dealer art critic Steve Litt, who wrote on the occasion of Fitzpatrick’s 1996 major retrospective at the Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art: “They are a vision of Paradise as it might be imagined by a medieval monk for whom copying and illuminating sacred texts is a form of communion with the divine.”

Jill Snyder

You may contact Salander-O’Reilly Galleries, which represent Fitzpatrick, by clicking the link

Cleveland Arts Prize
P.O. Box 21126 • Cleveland, OH 44121 • 440-523-9889 •