Jamie Fitzpatrick enchants Artissima with his sinister symbols of power

Stefano Pirovano

One of the names that stood out last week at Artissima in Turin is of London based talent Jamie Fitzpatrick. The audacious group of sculptures presented by the thirty-one-year-old artist at Vitrine‘s booth won none of the art fair prizes, but that didn’t prevent the gallery founded by Alys Williams in 2012 to sell a considerable number of his pieces. And that is quite indicative given that the sculptures are wax made – using the same kind of wax of Madame Tussauds’ museum – and that some of them are not only sexually explicit, but also quite invasive (fountains were spreading spurts of lavender water all around the gallery stand). In spite of that, three busts went to private collectors, one was acquired by French foundation Lab-bel, and the big fountain was purchased by Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo. That is to say five, and Fitzpatrick’s cv is still thin. Its relevant information is that last year he was selected for ICA’s New contemporaries exhibition and he also was part of Pause Patina, at the Camden Art Centre, a group show bringing together second-year Royal College of Art sculpture students. At this point you may add that early this year he was selected for the Eastside International Los Angeles residency (February/March 2017) and the intelligent AkermanDaly ‘First Words’ 2016/2017 – a residency and commission for five young artists to produce their first published writing. But this would not be enough to explain such a lively response at Artissima if his works were not so effective. In fact Fitzpatrick’s altered, exaggerated, and visually aggressive copies of symbols representing social powers – busts, fountains, sculptures, building decorations, plaques – could be the promising seeds of a wider research questioning the role of visual art itself in an era of exaggerated social diversities and fragile democracy such as the one we are living in. The titles given by the artist to the fountains presented at Artissima explain a lot about his work: ‘Frittering away the last puddle from the bottom of a dry well’, or ‘And these children that you spit on’. With such an explicit message, and a defined style, our Proust inspired questionnaire seems to be the best way to peek into Fitzpatrick’s artistic personality.

What is your favourite subject matter?

A lot of the work that I am doing is focused on things that have a symbolic association with power. I am interested in the way in which these symbols can be used to generate status or control within a kind of society. In London, for instance, we have a particular type of statuary that is placed in the city in order to reinforce the senses of hierarchy. Over the last couple of years it has been the base level thing that I have been interested in. And power it’s what takes the headlines at the moment, like in the American elections, which are proving how dangerous these symbols could be.

Do you believe in abstraction?

Things are somehow more real when they are not literal. I think it’s easier to find truth in narrative and fiction than it is often in reality. I guess in that sense yes, I believe in the abstract. It’s a better way of getting toward truth. I think that 1984 by George Orwell is more effective than any book by Noam Chomsky.

Which is the most inspiring place for you?

I like to go back to my dad’s place, in the North of Scotland. It’s an impressive place, wild and remote. But of course my studio is my favourite place for doing art. I am a studio artist.

Which is the quality that you prefer in an art dealer?

I chose to go with Vitrine because it was very clear when speaking with Alys that genuinely she had an interest in working with me. It was not just the case of finding someone whom she thought that she could exploit, which I see it happened to other people before. She wasn’t looking at me as a finished article. She wasn’t looking at my work and thinking, ‘oh, this is something I can sell’. The pieces that I was making when we first met, three or four months before I was graduating for my MA, are not pieces we would never sell. But she saw something in them she thought was worth developing.

Which one in a collector?

Probably it is the same thing. I want someone who has the interest in moving the practice forward. I am still young and there are many things that I want to evolve. That would be my ideal collector.

Who is your favourite artist?

I look at People like Paul McCarthy or Urs Fisher, hence artists who give to each of their works the sense of the studio practice and the process the work has come out of. One of the things I’ve been working a lot on is developing the sense of narrative… with writing, for example. I like how McCarthy sculptures appear to come out of the process of an action. His pieces look like they are the aftermath of the event. The way I am handling wax it’s pretty much the same. There is a series of gestures. If you look at the busts you can see where the wax was slapped on, and the punch-marks, or foot-marks. There are all these senses that something happened here, and this is what is left. I like artists whose works are the reminiscence of an action.

Is there any colour or shape you really hate?

In life there are good times and there are shit times. The same goes with colours. There are good colours and shit ones. But there is time for the shitty and a time for good things, if you know what I mean.

What makes an idea become an artwork?

I guess the first thing is passion. At some point you come out with something and you decide that it is the work, and you get on with it. This moment is the strongest drive that makes an idea become a work of art. The second one is practice. During the last year I experienced a lot of speed, I exhibited a lot, and I made many works. Artissima was very much the last thing on a big long line of making works specifically for exhibitions. But I am going to be on residency on February and March. Purposely I’ve created a situation when I don’t have shows and I am able to go back to the studio and experiment, without specific things that I have to achieve.

Which novel is better comparable to your idea of art?

I’ve read a lot of Dickens recently. I think you can compare his writing to the work that I am making. Some of his characters, even the more traditional ones, are very much trying to undermine authorities. They are able to make authority appear totally ridiculous. They may look very silly when you are reading, but afterwords, when you step back, you realise that there is a very serious social commentary.

What would you have done if you were not an artist?

I genuinely don’t know. I’ve never had any drive to make anything else other than this.

November 10, 2016