Jim Fitzpatrick is one of the most celebrated and internationally known Irish artists of his generation: his ornate, colourful and intensely decorative Celtic artwork is now so well-known and unique that it is instantly recognisable. While never regarded as being in the mainstream of modern Irish art none can doubt the powerful impact his eclectic and idiosyncratic style has had on many an aspiring young talent. The artist himself tells the story of a conversation he had at a party many years ago with the then president of the National College of Art and Design in Dublin: " You probably don't know this, but every year at least half the candidates for placement in the college have portfolios that show the huge influence your work has on the younger artists of this country...." "Quite right," said Fitzpatrick, feeling slightly gratified at such a great compliment, " I had absolutely no idea; what do you do with them all ? " " Oh, we just fuck them all out ! "
" And this was said with out the slightest trace of irony, " said Fitzpatrick later, "But I have to admit that I found it difficult to keep a straight face -I nearly cracked up on the spot and had to excuse myself; I went outside and it took me a good ten minutes to stop howling. I went back in and continued the conversation with that same person with any rancour on my part but it is instructive of the attitude of officialdom in Ireland to my work. It really does drive some people bananas...."
The art of Jim Fitzpatrick has never been less than controversial. His earliest work, the legendary Che Guevara poster of 1968 published just before his death in Bolivia, became the iconic image of the anti-Vietnam war protests world-wide and today is the symbol of F.A.R.C. in Columbia and the Zapitistas of Mexico in their fight for freedom and autonomy. "It's an odd world." says the artist, " The Che Guevara poster became a world-wide phenomena and caused outrage everywhere it appeared. Because the various posters of Che I produced were based on a photograph by a then unknown Cuban photographer plus the fact that I had met him (see Biography section ), idolised him and of course wanted to make sure he was never forgotten I made all the Guevara images copyright free. That's how it spread everywhere so quickly.
The reaction was extraordinary. The original poster art and an oil painting I intended using as a print went on tour after being exhibited in the Arts Lab and Lisson Gallery in London and guess what ? They both 'disappeared' in Eastern Europe where an individualistic idealist like Che was anathema to their corrupt regimes. Reaction in the west was about the same: my distributor in Spain was actually arrested by Franco's secret police and the poster destroyed.
But Ireland was the weirdest: Every shop that stocked the poster was threatened or harassed: in the very fashionable Brown Thomas of Grafton Street, which sold cards and posters in those faraway days, a well-turned out lady bought the entire stock, tore them all to pieces in front of the astonished staff and walked out ! I remember the late Ms O'Flaherty and Ms King of Parsons Bookshop on Baggot Street bridge, who were great supporters of my art -as they were of every artist and writer in Dublin - getting really upset at the hostility directed towards the poster, which hung proudly in their front window. Despite threats to break their windows they refused to take it down and I was so proud every time I passed that little shop run by two most educated, kind and charming Dubliners who devoted their lives to the artists and writers of this city. "
While his striking and memorable album cover designs for Thin Lizzy (and more currently for Sinead O'Connor) have earned him a permanent place in the annals of Irish rock music, his highly original revival of the Celtic Art of his forebears from the early 1970's onwards gained him an enormous following world-wide but often derision and condemnation in his native Ireland.
" It's an Irish thing to be ultra-critical of our own and I regard it as quite healthy. Criticism in this country falls somewhere between begrudgery and cynicism and we all love to wallow in the success of others then slag them to bits, cut them to pieces spit 'em all out then start all over again. "I know it sounds perverse but I love the shitshovelling and I'm well able to hold my own in any argument. I only object when I'm criticised in a cowardly way. I would be much more upset if I was ignored.
I know enough about art and artists -and the pain they endure from lack of recognition -to appreciate the attention my work has had both inside and outside Ireland in my own lifetime; it is absolutely phenomenal. I was in a bank in San Diego a few years ago with a female friend getting some cash when the teller, a young Hispanic guy, said ' Oh. You're the artist. I love your stuff.' I was dumbfounded, my partner was well impressed and my day was made. It turned out he was an aspiring artist himself, quite funny too: ' You don't think I work here because I enjoy it ! ' he said loudly, then whispered ' I'm an artist not a suit.' and pulled out some sketches from his cash drawer. They were pretty good too.
I do have to be honest -I love the Celtic stuff I do and I love the fact that it is so well appreciated but it drives me crazy sometimes. I have to get away from it -I'm not an effing monk."
Right now Jim Fitzpatrick is concentrating on new work: For the past ten-odd years he has been preparing a new series of works loosely titled 'Mostly Women' . The first volume in this new series should be published this year simultaneously with the first volume of 'The Celtic Art of Jim Fitzpatrick'. For Thin Lizzy fans this year will see the long-overdue publication of a new series of limited edition signed prints taken directly from the original album cover artwork -all of which is owned by the artist. As the man once said ' Anything good is worth waiting for.'.