Thursday, May 31, 2018

'He really has a deft way with him'—Tony Fitzpatrick on Rick Telander

     I'd hate to have to decide who is cooler, Rick Telander or Tony Fitzpatrick. 
     Rick is a revered sports columnist who became a star at Sports Illustrated before jumping to the Sun-Times. Tony is a respected artist who performs one-man shows at Steppenwolf and whose visual creations are collected in museums around the world. 
      Rick was the kid for 15 years in "The Sportswriters" on TV. Tony plays mysterious security guard Jack Birdbath in the "Patriot" TV series on Amazon Video.
      Rick played one-on-one with Michael Jordan. Tony hosted the Uptown Poetry Slam when it first began at the Green Mill. 
     See? It's impossible.
     And though I know both men and flatter myself that I am friends with both, I had no idea they knew each other—Rick met Tony 30 years, writing about the Slam. Nor that Rick is an artist. Nor, until a few weeks ago, that he was having a show at Tony's gallery. 
       My first thought was that I should write something, about the wonder, this sports-writer-turned-artist. Then I dithered: maybe I shouldn't—bias, both are pals—then that I should. I ran it past my editor, and he said fine, 
    Then Robert Chiarito beat me to the punch with this sprightly interview with Rick for Chicago magazine.
      Which left me ready to drop the idea. But I had already talked to Tony about the show, and figured his remarks would make for something of a bookend to Rick's observations. Anyway, the show opens Friday, June 1, from 7 to 10 p.m. at Adventureland, 1513 N. Western Avenue. Rick will be there. Tony will be there. There will be beer and wine. And, for what it's worth, I will be there too.

     "He's actually been making this stuff since he was a kid, he just doesn't talk about it. About six years ago, he started coming around, showing me his work, the stuff he made as a result of his trips to the UP. He's kind of a nature kid, and he liked what I did."
     Were you an inspiration? Because I see a connection.
     "He maybe looked at some of the things in my studio. It opened a couple doors to him. But he's got his own thing. He responds to nature in a way that touches me. He really has a deft way with him, making figures and making images. He's obviously a guy who has thought a lot about it. At the age of 69, this man has a second act. That's not the usual way it goes in America. I've encouraged it over the last half a dozen years. Watched him evolve and have something to write about besides the vanities of athletes, the constant push me and pull you between the millionaires and the billionaires. 
     "I think this is in large part his respite from that. It was always there."
     You guys have known each other a long time.
     We first met 35 years ago. He wrote the first press about me I ever had. He said, 'I've been making drawings since I was a kid, I don't really show them to anybody.' Back then, 28 years old, I said 'Why wouldn't you?' I think he came from the culture of being a former jock, went to Northwestern on a  football scholarship, wrote for Sports Illustrated all those years. Perhaps maybe one part of his psyche was he really didn't feel like sharing this with anybody.
     "I didn't really show anybody my art until my junior or senior in high school. I wanted to have ownership in my own life. I suspect, in a very different way, that might resonate for Rick. Don't ask about the mechanics of how thinks. He makes art in part about storytelling. He's always saying, 'It has to be beautiful.' I'm like, 'No Rick it doesn't.' Beauty is sometimes a side product.
    "One thing I really liked is  his fearlessness with art-making. He's not afraid to get in there with watercolors and pens and ink and collage elements. He draws very well, it's been kind of a remarkable symbiosis. I learn a lot from him.
     "Last year, my son brought a few of Rick's pieces in here and said, 'Let's do a show. He's not getting any younger.'  At first I thought I would have to talk him into it, but he's all in. He's ready to show people, ready for people to meet Rick Telander, the other guy. We think we know people from their bylines and what they observe. Part of the thing about making visual art, much say you look outward have to look deeply inward, Rick maybe surprised himself. And me; I'm thrilled we are able to do this." 

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