Jim Fitzpatrick, His Art, Dublin, and a Band called Thin Lizzy. . .
This essay “took a different slant and it works. No one bothers to try to tell the real story of myself and Philip and Dublin of the time and of our times as well as you have tried. Big thanks. PS. Use this quote if you want no prob. It’s the truth.” Jim Fitzpatrick 1/16/17 (Thank you, Jim!)
Over the past few years I have reached out to Jim Fitzpatrick on one or two occasions. At one point I was intrigued with a picture of his and wondering about licensing it, which did not happen. I also at one point got some prints of Thin Lizzy album covers, which he signed, which was very cool. I have wandered his site multiple times. He offers a range of artworks on it. He is not just about Thin Lizzy. Oh, he has a section dedicated to the work he did with the band and with Philip Lynott, but he also has an extensive catalog of work ranging from Celtic Mythology, to Irish Revolutionaries, to Irish Writers, to his classic Che Guevara poster.
Further, the way in which he offers these subjects up is unique. He has taken all of these: the Irish mythology, he has taken contemporary Irish writers and political revolutionaries, one of the most famous political revolutionaries in Che Guevara, and given them new life through his art. His art is a mix of what I would call political and graphic art. His work is beautiful, and it is different. You know when you are looking at art created by Jim Fitzpatrick.
So after gazing at his work on line and off, and I do have his work around me; I am proud of the wall length Chinatown poster behind me. After looking at these works for so long, I realized I can give back, writing about them and the artist behind them. And that is my intent here. To share what I see in these pieces of art, and more interestingly to share a few of the points and details I gained from my several conversations with Jim Fitzpatrick in the past months.
What follows is my attempt at that. The project, however, has evolved and that is why I have modified the title. It became not only a discussion of Jim Fitzpatrick, but an exploration of Dublin circa 1970 and Ireland in general. I simply realized in the course of writing this that you could not understand the man, without some understanding of Ireland and even more so Dublin. And this is true not only of Jim, but of our band Thin Lizzy.
Where We Begin
So where do we begin? My conversations with Jim started with and often returned to politics. Our first chat, which was cut short, focused on the situation in Syria. This was right after the US election and the ongoing bombing of Aleppo. Interestingly he supported the Russian involvement in Syria, and their support of the Assad regime. He mentioned western groups of fighters that are embedded with the Kurds. He talked of volunteers from the US, Ireland, and elsewhere who have gone on their own initiative over to Syria to fight ISIS.
Jim defended on several occasions the Syrian army, which for me would be the Assad regime. He pointed out that they are the only Arabic state to respect Christian communities. He recounted how they on one occasion recovered Christian territory from Al Qaeda elements, even returning to them a large statue of the Virgin Mary, to replace one the Al Qaeda groups had demolished. And let me stress, the Syrian Army pushed back not ISIS from this Christian community but an Al Qaeda group, who was perhaps armed or supported by the US government. These are groups I suspect often described by US media outlets as Syrian rebels. I was not exactly expecting this conversation, and did not know what to say other than what an F*** mess. A position I still take.
So from the start, you realize several things. He is very much involved with his craft. He is very much still creating art 50+ years after his famous poster of Che Guevara. Interestingly, he does these chats as he paints. He prefers to use Skype, which allows for him work as he talks. You learn quickly that he is very much a political animal. He is not an ideologue. He talks not of Marxist theory. No, he is much more interested in the various political struggles across the globe and supports them. He referenced at one point a Christmas Card he designed for the Palestinians Authority, a flag for the Standing Rock protest, and artwork he did in remembrance of those who fell on 9/11 in NYC.
In those same conversations he acknowledged he is a Christian, and the fact that the Syrian Army saved a Christian community meant something to him. He noted several times that it was one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. One that still speaks the Aramaic language, which in some form Christ spoke. All of this was important to him. It strikes me that these are not the first religious battles he has witnessed living in Ireland in the last half century.
A Proper Beginning
Jim Fitzpatrick is most known for one of his first pieces – Che Guevara, the famous Argentinian Revolutionary. He fought beside Fidel Castro, becoming a major figure in that revolution, before going onto other revolutionary campaigns in the southern hemisphere. He was ultimately killed in 1967 in Bolivia, where he was summarily executed by CIA trained Bolivian forces.
Fitzpatrick, who was inspired and moved by the man created the piece in memory of him in 1968. He “felt this image had to come out, or he would not be commemorated otherwise. He would go where heroes go, which is usually into anonymity.” The famous two toned poster / image of Che Guevara, complete with the yellow star in his beret, is found on tee-shirts, on the web, even on Havana architecture. It is listed by at least one art historian, Martin Kemp, as one of the most iconic pieces of art in the world. On that list it is number six, next to Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
Che Guevara would not be known today if it were not for Jim Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick succeeded in memorializing the man. Many including myself know little of the actual man, but that image is recognized, and the subject’s name is known. He has come to represent the counter-culture and I would suspect much that has little to do with the causes he fought and died for. You can see that in the fact that Jim who had allowed the image to be freely used. Somewhere between 2008 and 2011 he copyrighted the image, and then signed over the copyright of it to the William Soler Pediatric Cardiology Hospital in Havana, Cuba. He asserted that “Cuba trains doctors and then sends them around the world… I want their medical system to benefit”. He also gave the original artwork to an archive run by Guevara’s widow, Aleida March.
The two things I leave you with here are his artistic style and again his politics. In the image of Che Guevara you see his reliance on graphic art – a style used in political poster art, in the design of logos, signs and symbols, and lastly of course in American comic books. All are the art of the masses. All are tied with mass-production and large audiences. Fitzpatrick brings all of this to the art world. His work today can be found in various museums, compared to artists such as the Britain’s William Turner, but it arrives there through graphic art techniques and solutions. On to the second item: his politics – as I said above, politics matters, specifically political struggle. His selection of Che Guevara as the subject needing to be memorialized cannot state that more firmly.
How to deal with Dublin? Dublin is critical in this story. I have been looking at this from various angles, but in short it comes down to two addresses. Yes I simplify, but two addresses: 3 Harry St, and across the street – 7-8 Harry St. What you have there are the addresses for two pubs: McDaids, and Bruxelles, formerly known as the Zodiac Bar. In short, in the former you have one of the key pubs for Ireland’s literati, folks such as Brendan Behan, and the second is where one could find Philip Lynott and other rockers back in the late 60s and early 70s. It was in this milieu that Jim Fitzpatrick met Philip.
So the poster of Che Guevara certainly gave him notoriety. He continued to support the causes that had prompted him to do the poster in the first place. He also continued to do other projects, routinely contributing to one journal, “Acapella” I believe, and a set of murals at a local bar, Captain America’s. And it was through these and just being part of the Dublin scene, and there was it appears a scene, through which he met up with Phil Lynott. It appears that there were several connections that brought them together. Those ranged from the above journal and bar, to mutual friends, and football as he put it.
The interesting thing here though is that it was not just Philip Lynott and the boys in Thin Lizzy and Jim Fitzpatrick. Jim stressed to me several times that Dublin was just a cool place to be in the early seventies. And when he said that I quickly thought music and musicians, and he would quickly correct me. It was not just Phil and the boys, Gary Moore, “Brush” Shiels , and the like. It was not just music but a whole scene.
Jim pointed out a few times in our conversations that folks from London, and even America were coming to Dublin. Apparently, John Lennon was there on several occasions; intrigued with the rich literary, and cultural traditions of Ireland and Dublin. Marc Bolan of T. Rex would apparently be found in Dublin often enough in the early 70s. Apparently the Rolling Stones would be in proximity in the late 60s just to get out of London and to have some peace. These, however, are largely of the rock and music worlds.
Another character who Jim referenced in this scene was BP Fallon (Not to be confused with Peter Fallon in the image). I had never heard of him, but an interesting dude as it turns out. Originally from Ireland, he jumps over to London and got his start in journalism doing an interview with John Lennon at a “Bed in” in Amsterdam. This in turn leads to a gig at Apple Records. He goes on to become a publicist for Thin Lizzy. He supported Led Zeppelin on their tours. He worked with the New York Dolls at least when they over in the UK and Europe. He does the same for the Boomtown Rats and more recently U2.
Even here though, with BP Fallon, we have a man who certainly has an interesting resume and involved with journalism, PR, and management of a range of bands and artists. He still does not for my money bring the literary piece to bear. We have so far kind of introduced the gang you might find at the Zodiac. And we have yet to look at our second venue, McDaids, and the clientele that frequent that establishment.
Before we go there, first a word about Dublin and Ireland circa 1970. Dublin was a small city with a population of around 851,000 in 1971. Nor was it the richest place in Europe. In short, Ireland struggled through much of the 20th Century. Of course in 1921 Ireland gained its independence from England. Northern Ireland also came into existence at that time, and largely remained loyal to the
UK, though with a large pro-Irish Republic Catholic minority, which would make it presence known through out the 20th century politically and at times violently. All that that said, Ireland has one of the richest literary traditions, which dates at least to the nineteenth century and continues on into the 21st. Start with Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker and C.S. Lewis. Though they lived in England much of their lives, they originate from Ireland.
There are others, typically from the west coast, who have chosen to stay in Ireland and write in Irish. (I had not even conceived of such until working on this essay!) In this space you have poets such as Máirtín Ó Direáin and Seán Ó Ríordáin and on the prose side, writers such as Tomás Ó Criomhthain and Peig Sayers among others. These were authors who began to write in the late nineteenth and early 20th Centuries and at some level that tradition continues today. This piece more than hints at the cultural divide and the depths of that divide between Ireland and the UK.
And the above two lists only scratch the surface for there are far more who chose to stay on the Emerald Isle and write in English. The obvious ones here of course are James Joyce, Yeats, and Samuel Beckett. Others include poets such as John Montague, and Paul Muldoon. Novelists include Edna O’Brien and John McGahern, and dramatists such as Tom Murphy and Brian Friel. Now not all of these would be found in Dublin. Many of these will be found in Cork, others in Belfast. That said, Dublin is the Capitol of the Republic, with its history, and the Book of Kells and Trinity College, and the likes of the Abbey Theater, there is something there.
So we have introduced Irish literature, and a very quick snapshot of Ireland and Dublin. We have yet to make it to McDaids, and on top of that we need to connect these two. We need the connect the literature of McDaids to the rock ‘n’ roll of the Zodiac. And more importantly, we need to explain what all of this has to do with Jim Fitzpatrick!
Hold that thought and allow us to return to McDaids. Enter one Brendan Behan. Referenced earlier, he is another outstanding Irish author, and Irish Republican. He was a poet, a short-story writer, novelist, and playwright. He wrote in both English and Irish, and spent much of his teens in English jails due to attempted IRA bombing and assassination plots. It is probably safe to say that he was a far better writer than he was revolutionary. And once he did realize his calling, it is said that he became much more disciplined, getting up at 7 AM, and writing till noon, which is when the pubs opened. So Behan brings us to McDaids. And it is not just Behan. You do a quick search on Google and you find boasts of other writers such as Liam O’ Flaherty and Patrick Kavanagh, who also regularly frequented the pub.
I bring up these two pubs, and this overly quick history of Irish literature because I want to point to something Jim Fitzpatrick said to me several times. The scene was not just rock ‘n’ roll. And it wasn’t. Dublin as I hope to have started to convey does have a rich literary and political history. The two are I would argue are interwoven. I have heard this before but it is impactful here. Ireland is proud of that literary and for that matter their political heritage. They are proud of their writers, their prose, their poetry, and drama, which are at times political. It is in part what makes them Irish, similarly to their Guinness and Jameson. In Dublin, you have this world across the street from and in the Zodiac.
That is probably enough. Irish rockers perhaps simply could not be Irish rockers without that ingredient of Irish culture and the Irish literary tradition, but there is one more piece to this story. Jim included one other character in those who made the Dublin scene – Allen Ginsberg. The Beat Poet from Brooklyn, who in 1956 published the Howl and Other Poems, and became notorious because of the associated court case around that work and its content. He explored in his poetry who he was, his sexuality, and his drugs among other things. He developed a long friendship with the folk / rock artist Bob Dylan. The key here is that here was this man who lived in both the literary world and in popular culture in the age of mass media. He was living proof of what could be done with the mixing of the literary and popular cultures.
I so wanted to confirm that Ginsberg was in Dublin, but I have not. That said his visit makes sense. The man traveled back and forth across Europe and beyond in the late fifties and sixties. Dublin seems like a perfect place for him to visit. The history, the literature, I believe, would be irresistible, the people, and the ale. Further, Dublin had its own folk music scene, which I have not touched on!
And again he bridges these two worlds, which were already in contact. His presence and his poetry just intensifies what the Dubliners already had. And he would have arrived there with his works already recognized, and his affiliation with Bob Dylan known. All of this makes him a man who could easily inspire both Jim Fitzpatrick and Philip Lynott to stitch the literary, the political, and the popular together. Even if the man had not come to Dublin, beat poetry, his work, and his relation to Bob Dylan did, and I am sure they inspired. In short, in Dublin in 1965 to let us say 1975, lyrics, politics, art, and history mattered like no where else.
From Dublin to History
So we have talked of Irish literature, of the importance of the word, of the mixing of the cultural, the political, and the profane. Regarding Jim Fitzpatrick, and to a lesser degree Thin Lizzy, you find both going back to the history of Ireland again and again in their art. And no doubt this reinforces the focus on political struggle, For the history of Ireland, has involved a good amount of that.
A quick glance back just illustrates the point. The island had been inhabited since roughly 10500 BC. The Romans, though they never did invade, were across the way in England. In this case the Irish were lucky to be the farthest part of Europe. Rome had ongoing challenges both in England and on the mainland. The island became Christian in roughly 500 AD. Jump ahead to the Vikings, who did cause the Romans some havoc too. The Vikings landed up and down the coastlines of the Island. Unlike the Romans, who would claim a land entirely, the Vikings clung to the coasts. And lastly you have the English. Of course they would arrive later, around 1200 AD, and still have a presence in Northern Ireland to this day. And in this later period of the English you have conquests by both the Normans and the Tudors, multiple rebellions, outright battles, both political and religious, and just numerous challenges and confrontations.
In 1978 Fitzpatrick published The Book of Conquests. In 1981 he published The Silver Arm. Both involve his retelling of the ancient Irish myth, Lebor Gabála Érenn (The Book of the Taking of Ireland or The Book of Conquests). Both of his books involve a recounting of the earliest Celtic mythological cycle involving the Tuatha De Dannan (the Tribes of the Goddess Danu) and their King, Nuada and their taking, their conquest of the Emerald Isle. These are stories Fitzpatrick had been told as a boy, late into the night around the fire. . . fireplace. Following an oral tradition, these myths were shared, passed down from generation to generation.
They were in fact transcribed and preserved in the 11th century by Christian monks. And these stories, transcribed in the 11th Century, are in fact the beginning of an Irish literary heritage. Fitzpatrick in his Introduction to the Book of Conquests references Sir William Wilde, father to Oscar Wilde, regarding speculation about the location of battles detailed in these stories. In the last paragraph of that same introduction he quotes W. B. Yeats, from a Preface to Lady Gregory’s Gods and Fighting Men, which is another collection again detailing the Irish mythological cycle of the Book of Conquests.
Both of his books involve extensive artwork. They involve not only illustrations of the the tales told, but also intricate motifs and designs framing the pages, both text and illustrations. This involves what is known as scrollwork and interlace. Scrollwork is an element of ornament and graphic design featuring spirals and rolling incomplete circle motifs. Interlace is similar but more elaborate. In interlace, the motifs are looped, braided, or knotted into complex geometric patterns. Both are often used to fill a space. You most commonly see these in medieval English and Irish art, typically in churches and cathedrals. With my one art history class under my belt, I always remember the British cathedrals and their desire or need to fill each and every space – that fear of the vacuum (Horror vacui).
Now, the first of these books, The Book Of Conquests, is done clearly within the graphic arts tradition. the illustrations though elaborate and rich, still acknowledge its comic book heritage. The use of shading is just not there. Likewise the scrollwork and interlace are intricate, but not rich. The motifs are simply large and shapely. They are with form and monochromatic.
The artwork found in the second book, The Silver Arm, however, departs from comic book into a much richer deeper style. Fitzpatrick continues to use the same tools and techniques, but has brought them to new places, new levels. The illustrations are richer, more detailed. The graphic art, the attention to line, is still there, but now with shadow and the play of color.
This is very much seen in the framing of these pages, again the scrollwork and the interfaces. The motifs found in The Silver Arm distinguish and accentuate the illustrations and pages even more so. They seem much richer in this work. They are still of limited color, but now highly condensed, highly detailed, and miniaturized. They seem almost embroidered. The space here is no longer filled with the form of the motif, but rather just design. What were shapes are now but lines and layered.
Lastly, the myths from which Fitzpatrick starts involve six cycles. Each of the six cycles or stories involves a conquests of the Emerald Isle. Fitzpatrick in his two books details only the first cycle, what is often known as the Early Mythological Cycle. The most common cycle, which I have seen reference to previously was the Ulster Cycle. It is in the Ulster Cycle that one encounters Cú Chulainnm, who is referenced in Thin Lizzy’s Black Rose.
Again, each cycle is the story of a conquest of what is today Ireland. Each of the six cycles is a series of battles, warriors, loves, loss, and sometimes victory. Likewise the artwork for both of Fitzpatrick’s books, staying true to the myths, is of warriors, of battles, of the beautiful Isle itself, of what and who they fought for, their loves. In short, Fitzpatrick went from Che to the ancient mythological cycles of Ireland found in these two books. In all of these there is a focus on what I would call the political, on the struggles of peoples and armies, of their heroes and leaders, and the consequences of such.
And then there is Thin Lizzy
And this mix of art, history, literature, and music has its consequences. Just the name Thin Lizzy is a play on how the Irish pronounce the word “tin”, and then you get into the question of why name a band after a very old and antiquated car? You can see it more glaringly on the cover of Thin Lizzy’s third album, “Vagabonds of the Western World”, released in 1974. And keep in mind this is the first album cover and logo that Jim Fitzpatrick does for Phil Lynott and Thin Lizzy.
The title of that third album, “Vagabonds of the Western World” owes a debt to a play written by John Millington Synge back in 1907 in Dublin, titled Playboy of the Western World. The play revolves around Christy Mahon, a young man who claims to be on the lamb due to him killing his father. He in fact did not kill his father, but regardless, he becomes a local celebrity because of it. At least till his father appears again and Christy again attempts to murder him. This time almost succeeding. An interesting play no doubt, and ending it seems with the father and son departing together the tavern where all of this takes place.
In addition to the plot, the play is interesting in its use of language, embracing what I would describe as Irish English, or the set of English dialects written and spoken in Ireland (both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland). Because of this plot, and its embracing of the Irish dialect, it in fact led to riots in Ireland. It was protested by Irish Nationalist including a Sinn Fein leader. All interesting until we recall that all of this happened back in 1907. Roughly 6o years before Thin Lizzy were even conceived, but that is the point. Here is that awareness of Irish history, literature, politics, and language. Any Thin Lizzy fan is aware of their Irish roots, and I am saying here that had to be the case. It was who they were.
Jump ahead to Thin Lizzy’s Nightlife album. Again Jim Fitzpatrick does the cover. If you look at the cover quickly, it it is the Twin Towers of NYC. This is not an Irish album, but it is classic Jim Fitzpatrick with his use of the the graphic arts techniques and styles. And if you look at it closer, you will see a large black cat, a black panther. His politics. He shared with me in my first chat with him that black cat was a nod to the American Black Panther movement. He was told at the time, back in 1975, not to advertise it, but it was still there.
Fitzpatrick of course does the Jailbreak album released in 1976. That cover with the man, the Warrior, watching over our heroes breaking out! Our four are escaping from the Overmaster, who controls all, including religion and the media. The story is on the back of the vinyl cover. It ends with the Warrior, who is weary and disillusioned, realizing he must again raise his sword, as he watches these men struggle to be free. The song may not be political but the cover and the story on the back of the album is very much so. It is also very much pure graphic art!
The next album is Johnny the Fox. That album is interesting. There is no science fiction theme here. It is largely in the streets. Much of the tunes are slices of life, or musical portraits, talking of street gangs, rockers, and addiction. I have always been impressed with the song “Fools Gold”, and that the lyrics there are allegorical, involving a fox. That was the last song on the first side of the album. And I would get up to flip the vinyl over asking myself what Philip was actually saying on that tune. The first song on the second side is Johnny the Fox, which brings us back to the streets. And yes you have to think it mattered where songs were placed and how they fitted together!
The art for Johnny the Fox is again the graphic art style, which I keep pointing to. It is not, however, Jailbreak. Fitzpatrick introduces on this album cover the scrollwork and interlace found in his books of Irish myth. He had incorporated the ornamentation and design motifs which one traditionally sees in medieval texts or cathedrals. Fitzpatrick has brought such to a 20th century rock album cover!
From there you of course have the Bad Reputation album, which is reminiscent of or alludes to the techniques that he used with Che Guevara back in 1968. The Black Rose album, which again alludes to the Book of Conquests and the Ulster Cycle. The cover is is again Fitzpatrick’s. This time a black rose with drips of blood. I always think of the line from the Thin Lizzy song Black Rose in relation to that artwork:
Oh tell me the story of the Queen of this land
And how her sons died at her own hand
And how fools obey commands
Oh tell me the legends of long ago.
From the song “Black Rose”, on the Thin Lizzy album Black Rose
Chinatown is the last Thin Lizzy album Fitzpatrick does. It is unique as Lynott lyrically and to some degree musically is pointing I believe to Chinatown in London in the Soho area, where the album was recorded. So it is only appropriate that Fitzpatrick offers up his take, complete with a hint of the interlace, but now used as backdrop. The Chinese dragon that he offers is striking!
Romanticism – Last Stop
So where are we? I am lost. We started by talking bout Syria. We then moved onto one of the most recognized pieces of art, the Che Guevara poster, which Jim Fitzpatrick did way back in 1968. We then went on a very quick tour of Dublin and Ireland, exploring their literature, history, politics, and two of its pubs. Through that, however, we see an appreciation of history, of literature, of the political. It is through that prism that we arrive at the artworks work we have touched upon here.
And it needs to be stressed – Jim Fitzpatrick continues to create art! Here, we have introduced Che, and Fitzpatrick’s two books – The Book of Conquests, and The Silver Arm. And then we touched upon the many Thin Lizzy album covers. There is much more. And all is, both what we have and what we have not covered, done through largely contemporary techniques. Methods which had originally focused on political posters, comic books, and mass media, what I loosely call the graphic arts. He has shown what can be done with such techniques, and this can be seen in his entire catalog, which entails far more than we we have covered.
I leave you with this. All of the above arrive at what I would call a romantic theme. There are numerous stabs at what romanticism is, but I feel there is a vein of it through all of this. Perhaps that is another essay. For now though, it just seems that with that history of Ireland-past and present, that literary heritage which Jim Fitzpatrick and Philip Lynott did appreciate, and the music and the world that were exploding around them; all of this was an invitation, a challenge, to reach for and grab it. For both Jim Fitzpatrick and perhaps even more so for Philip Lynott this was their conquest or at least their struggle.
The vulture sits on top of the big top circus arena
He’s seen this show before knows someone is going to fall
Just near the part where the beautiful dancing tightrope ballerina
Forgets that the safety net isn’t there at all
Down he swoops with claws drawn to take her
Razor sharp so savagely is she mauled
Oh my God, is there no one who can save her?
In steps the fox to thunderous applause
From the song “Fools Gold” on the Thin Lizzy album Johnny the Fox
I encourage all to check out Jim’s website, www.jimfitzpatrick.com!
 Che Guevara, Jim Fitzpatrick and the making of an icon, History Ireland, Issue 4 (Jul/Aug 2008), Volume 16, ( http://www.historyireland.com/20th-century-contemporary-history/che-guevara-jim-fitzpatrick-and-the-making-of-an-icon/ )