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Giant mural to be installed outside Steppenwolf Theatre

Chicago artist and actor Tony Fitzpatrick says the mural, a tribute to the late Steppenwolf artistic director Martha Lavey, will be his last public artwork in Chicago.

Muralists Tony Fitzpatrick, left, and Danny Torres, right, pose for a portrait at their studio in Wicker Park on Friday.
Muralists Tony Fitzpatrick (left) and Danny Torres are photographed at their studio in Wicker Park.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

A massive mural created by Chicago artist and actor Tony Fitzpatrick will be installed on the exterior of Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s new arts and exhibition center in Lincoln Park this week.

Fitzpatrick, who has put on several shows at Steppenwolf over the years, said his mural, which measures 12 feet high by 76 feet long, is a personal tribute to former Steppenwolf artistic director Martha Lavey, who died in 2017 and who he considers a mentor.

It’s Fitzpatrick’s largest work to date and his first outdoor mural — and the 62-year-old artist also says it will be the end of a chapter in his career.

“I think it’s time for guys who look like me to get out of the way. My show coming up in October at the [College of DuPage] will be my last museum show. This will be my final public artwork for the city of Chicago. I’m still going to do gallery shows all over the world, I just feel like,... when you get to the top of the hill, you pull the next person up. I think there needs to be more room for artists of color, for LGBTQ artists and for female artists.”

“Night and Day in the Garden of All Other Ecstasies.”
“Night and Day in the Garden of All Other Ecstasies.”
Provided

Fitzpatrick said because of the size of the mural and because they could not find a space to work during the pandemic, he enlisted the help of fellow artist Danny Torres, whom he’s recently partnered with in a new public art initiative called Fitzpatrick/Torres Humboldt Caballo, to digitize eight pieces.

They were then digitally printed in Bologna, Italy, on 57 ceramic porcelain tiles, each measuring 4 x 4 feet, and will be installed this week at the building, 1646 N. Halsted St. The building itself, which will house an educational center and additional stages, is scheduled to open in the fall.

Known for his drawings and collages that often have birds, the pieces Fitzpatrick selected for the mural feature floral or tree themes instead of birds and has a garden theme. In addition to being a tribute to Lavey, the mural — titled “Night and Day in the Garden of All Other Ecstasies” — is similar to the creative process of a play, Fitzpatrick said.

Martha Lavey, the late former artistic director of Steppenwolf Theatre.
Martha Lavey, the late former artistic director of Steppenwolf Theatre.
Provided

“This is the most un-Tony-like looking work of art I’ve ever made. I just thought there really wouldn’t be any human figures. The only thing is Martha’s eyes are in it … We didn’t want it to be literal or linear. We wanted it to be much like the creative process of when you’re putting together a play and trying 100 different things on your way in,” Fitzpatrick said.

The garden theme was something that came to him when thinking back to conversations he had with Lavey over the years.

“I knew based on conversations with Martha that leading a theater company is like tending a large, unruly garden. There are thorns, there are blooms, there are explosions of unexpected color, and there are constantly more seeds available. Every play blooms into its own unexpected beauty but like a garden, it’s fraught with peril as well. There are thorns, there are weeds, there are invasive species.”

While he says the mural will be his last public piece, Fitzpatrick is expanding into other areas. He said he will continue to create jigsaw puzzles of his work — something that he started during the pandemic and went over well, and soon will be adding his art to skateboard decks in a new venture.

Still, the mural brings him personal pride as something that can be viewed and enjoyed by anyone walking by the building.

“I wanted to leave something lasting, life affirming and positive.”

Click on the map below for a selection of Chicago-area murals