Leo Fitzpatrick’s new show, “Fuck Friends,” is now open at the Asia Song Society. Fitzpatrick, who is thirty, has spent his career cultivating an authentic air of depravity. As a teenager, he starred in Kids; since then he has appeared in a handful of gritty movies and television shows, none grittier than The Wire. His gallery work, while tailored for a cosmopolitan audience, evinces the same sort of resolute degeneracy. A mixture of collage and stencil, inscribed hastily on 8x11 mattes and arranged in rectangular groups, the drawings appear to be the work of a deeply disturbed twelve-year-old. There are angry scribblings, prurient cut-outs, and, yes, quite a few curse words.
The subject matter is familiar: pop culture and sex, the twin pillars of avant-garde art since the 1920s. At what point exactly such art ceases to march forward is a matter of some debate, but it is enough to say that Fitzpatrick does his best to appear original. In this manner we are given baseball players and bared vaginas, the Marx Brothers beside a rubber-bunned aerobics instructor, and, my personal favorite, thumb-sucking Linus from Peanuts spouting off-color jokes (“How do you circumcise a redneck? Kick his sister in the chin”).
The effect of Fitzpatrick’s cutting and pasting is rather more complex than it first appears. Saccharine cartoons are placed alongside pornography, and quickly the difference between them is obliterated. As we stop distinguishing one image from another, their content becomes less important to us than the fact that they are simply there, to be looked at, in no particular order at all.
Television has the same destabilizing effect. In fact, if TV has one cohesive message, it is that everything is watchable. One image is followed randomly by another, the sequence held together only by the flimsiest narrative. It is no imaginative leap, then, to propose that viewing Fitzpatrick’s work is a lot like watching TV. After all, the random juxtapositions of the artist’s drawings and catch-phrases (most of which are culled from the screen) can be found just as easily amid basic cable’s Thursday night line-up.
Of course, Fitzpatrick’s audience has been raised on TV. The frenetic rhythm of program-commercial-commercial-program has become palatable, even expected; and seeing Cinderella paired with Mike Tyson, rather than provoking alarm, reminds one only of flipping through channels. Televisual art is a demotic form, and no doubt it speaks to a generation of TV kids. But what exactly is it saying? When art and TV begin to talk the same language, is it not the artist’s job to find a new means of expression?
All of this, the vast array of images and texts, falls rather strangely under the title “Fuck Friends.” The copulative element is clear enough, but how exactly Fitzpatrick’s work incorporates friendship is anybody’s best guess. Here’s one, though maybe it’s a stretch. All of Fitzpatrick’s artworks are shockingly affordable (the show was almost called ‘100 pictures for 100 dollars’). The artist has decided to make a gift of his art, and if we accept his offer, then we are his friends. Anyone who remembers Fitzpatrick’s character from Kids (an HIV-positive skateboarder with a penchant for virgins), will refrain from becoming anything more.