LEO FITZPATRICK: WASHINGTON SQUARE PARK TO CHELSEA
Leo Fitzpatrick is a dynamic force to reckon with, although he might not want you to know. Having first started acting in the 1995 movie Kids after befriending director Larry Clark, Fitzpatrick has played many roles including one of my favorites on The Wire (which ran from 2002–2008). Originally from New Jersey, he dropped out of high school in favor of skateboarding and hanging out with friends in New York City. For the last ten years, he’s worn another hat, as Associate Director of Marlborough Contemporary in Chelsea. Fitzpatrick has an unusual program which allows him to bring artists he likes to Viewing Room, a medium-sized gallery in the back of Marlborough’s 25th Street space. I recently sat down with Fitzpatrick to talk about his experience with the gallery and, of course, his acting career. As far as upcoming programming at the gallery, keep an eye out for work he will be doing with Genesis P-Orridge, Erik Hanson, and Mike Cloud, as well as a top-secret show that he wasn’t ready to talk about.
Katy Diamond Hamer: Your career has been multidisciplinary. How did you get into the gallery world?
Leo Fitzpatrick: I’ll give you a little backstory. About nine or ten years ago, me, Nate Lowman and Hanna Liden started a gallery, or small project space, actually, called Home Alone. It grew from a storefront window to an actual space. We had never wanted to sell art or be art dealers; Nate and Hanna are both artists and our motto was, “The artist is always right, even if it’s wrong.” In doing that, the artists had complete freedom to do whatever they wanted and we weren’t a threat to either Nate or Hanna’s galleries. We weren’t trying to profit off artists but rather just give them a platform to do whatever they wanted. We lost a considerable amount of money [laughs] but we were able to build a resume of people we liked working with. Because Nate and Hanna are artists and I’m a failed actor, I had the most time to do the day-to-day activities at the gallery that could be perceived as boring.
When we decided to close Home Alone, I went to Pascal [Spengemann] from Marlborough Gallery to ask him advice on how independent curating works since I never went to school for any of this. He originally propositioned me to do Home Alone at Marlborough, but I needed to make a separation between the two because Hanna and Nate, who are still some of my best friends, weren’t involved. That is how Viewing Room was started.
KDH: It’s amazing to think how you didn’t have a formal education in acting or art but have still managed to find visibility in both.
LF: I’m a high school dropout, a skateboard kid who didn’t grow up with any culture, art or anything. I dropped out of school so I could skate and move around a bunch. I feel really lucky to not have any influence that led me to the things I was into. Every record was a new discovery, every artist was a new discovery because I was never taught what was good or what was bad. So my taste has been based on gut reaction and instinct, then and now. I always felt uncomfortable in the art world and in the world in general because I don’t look like people in the art world and I don’t talk like people in the art world and the things I view as important, maybe other people don’t view as important. I still approach Viewing Room in the same way that I approached working with artists as part of Home Alone Gallery. I know that some young people might go to gallery openings just for the beer, but my hope is that one or two of them might come back without their friends on a mission to take in the show and be inspired to do their own thing.
KDH: Do you have anyone in particular you are inspired by?
LF: The first gallery that I had been exposed to was American Fine Arts. A lot of people had that experience with Colin de Land—who founded American Fine Arts in 1988 and also subsequently co-founded the Armory Show—he just really liked people and helped everyone to feel really comfortable in his gallery, even if you had very little to offer him. He just liked people being around. Now I would say Shoot the Lobster and Canada might fall into that category as galleries. I think it’s important for artists who are looking for a gallery or exhibition space, to know the galleries that they like and the artists those galleries show and if they can’t think of a gallery like that, they should start their own space. For me, coming out of skateboard culture, I think of the whole year [of shows that I organize], as a mixtape. You have to find all the right songs and put them in the right order. When looking at the program, I try to show as many types of art as possible. You’ll rarely see a straightforward photography or painting show from me and I work that way in order to show kids that there is a huge umbrella of ways to experience art.
KDH: Are you still making your own artwork? I wrote about an apartment show curated by Tony Cox that you had work in—a refrigerator with collage elements on the door—that I really liked.
LF: The refrigerator piece, which paid homage to friends who have died, was nostalgic for me. Things are always changing around us and I find myself looking for simpler times. My favorite artists are highly conceptual, like Michael Asher, who was about taking away things and focusing on the idea. I get asked to be in group shows from time to time, mostly by friends who are artists and if the idea is there then I’ll do it, but if not then I’ll back away because I don’t believe in putting something on the wall just because you can.
KDH: Can you talk about your early experience of working with Larry Clark?
LF: I met Larry when I was probably about 14 years old, maybe even younger. He’s like a father figure to me and offered an interesting perspective: getting into the art world through the eyes of Larry Clark. He’s the one who first told me about Mike Kelly, Richard Prince, Christopher Wool, and others because he was friends with them. That was really the beginning of my interest and influence into art. When we were making Kids, he was looking for actual skateboarders and that point, I had already dropped out of school and was hanging out in Washington Square Park. None of us knew who Larry was or understood he was a famous photographer. It didn’t even feel like a movie in many ways, it felt very natural. I had to learn lines for the first time, and everything in the movie, except for the sex, was pretty real. By the time we filmed, I was 16 and my Mom had to sign off on it. She was cool enough to understand that this was pretty realistic and it wasn’t what she wanted to think kids, myself included, were doing. Larry is a big champion of teenagers, and for the first time in our lives, we felt really validated. I went from being a loner skater to being somewhat known as a villain having portrayed a character that most people weren’t sure was fiction or not. After that, I moved to London for a few years and got more in touch with what I wanted in my life. I’m lucky to work with Marlborough now, and if I need to travel for an acting job, they understand that. What I learned from Larry and still practice today is that the youth are always going to figure it out.
WORDS Katy Diamond Hamer
PHOTOGRAPHY Chris Shonting