On Wednesday, August 30 we release Atomic Child, the third beer in our collaborative series with Chicago artist Tony Fitzpatrick. We were honored that Tony chose to partner with us, and we’re humbled by the response we’ve gotten at these releases. It reminds us of the beautiful intersection of art and science, and how beer is much more than just something we put in a glass and drink.
In advance of this next release, we talked with Tony about Atomic Child, his art, and more.
We've now released two beers in our collaborative series, Radio Swan and Snoochie Boochies. Next up is Atomic Child—I think she’s my favorite of all the labels. Tell me a little about her.
Well Atomic Child, and actually all the Forbidden Root labels, are really etchings I made for myself. They’re all a meditation on my childhood. I was a bad student. I got kicked out of schools because the nuns and teachers would catch me drawing in my notebooks. I would take two to class—one for the subject I was supposedly learning and one for drawing. So I’d draw and the teachers would say, “you’re in Tony World.” And, in fact, I was. And I was very happy to be there. I went to Catholic schools, and I wasn’t down with the punishment. I just wanted to draw birds, naked women, and cartoons, and be left the fuck alone. Unfortunately, that wasn’t in line with their curriculum. In third grade, I found a Playboy magazine and my friends and I pored over it. And, of course, then all I drew were naked women with bird heads. The nuns went batshit.
One nun got very upset because I drew a Harpy Eagle with her head in his hands. She told my mother, and they made me go see a shrink. The psychologist told my mom, “he’s got a crazy vivid imagination, but someday, I think he’ll make you very proud.” And then he said he’d love to get the nun in there! But my mom was my best advocate.
So yeah, all of the beer labels come out of my childhood. And you can see a lot of representations of my childhood in the imagery.
As part of our collaboration, you've written vignettes that appear on the labels. They're short but super evocative. The pairing of words and visuals reminds me of how sometimes with beer the name comes first, and it’s so good it inspires the liquid. Other times, you have the recipe in mind and are searching for the words to name it.
BJ can make a narrative taste a certain way. It’s brilliant; he’s an artist. We’ve had so much fun with the idea of collaboration on this. We have this weird sort of telepathy of what the story or beer will need—one thing feeds another. I write the stories for the cans because I think this is somewhat rare, and I hope the cans are something people will hold onto. It’s not just commerce.
You know, I met the FR crew and sensed these like-minded spirits. What you’re doing is unique. It’s a soulful business. Plus, I love that you’re a brewery on Chicago Avenue, which is like the most American street in the world to me.
So for you, do the words or visuals come first?
Words kind of come with the drawings—when they’re complete enough to have arms and legs of their own. I grew up on comics. I loved comics like Dick Tracy and Mad Magazine. They gave me permission to be a wise-ass. Every authority figure you could imagine, they were like “fuck them.” They were my heros.
So much comes out of comics and these quotidian art forms, like tattoo, political cartoons, horror films. They maybe aren’t recognized as art forms in art school, but they’re such vital disciplines.
When I was a kid, my mom, to keep me busy, would ask me to draw her a picture. I’d spend an hour or so and give her this pretty detailed thing. She’d look at it and then push it back and say, “now tell me a story.” So drawings and poems kind of became the same thing. And it made me realize the power of words. I’ve published six books of poetry. I know that words have power. Right now we have a president that’s as reckless and brutal in his elocution as he is with his policy-making. Words are a controlled substance; they’re a weapon. You have to choose them carefully. The power of images and words have never been lost on me.
You do multimedia collage and drawings. You’ve written books of poetry, you’re an actor, you’ve done radio. You have so many forms of expression. Do you have a favorite?
My first pursuit was making drawings, so that might be the thing I’m most comfortable with but kinda hard to tell. Nobody ever said “no” to me. I didn’t go to college; I attempted it a few times, but I’ve never been fond of institutions—or vice versa. Anyway, I tried out for a few plays, and no one ever complained that I didn’t go to theater school. Same with my art in New York in the 80s. So I just kept going.
I do have a thick skin for rejection, though. If someone did say no, I’d just go find the next one. I always figured there was somewhere in the creative life where I’d find a place. And, fortunately, that happened.
So I consider it all the same body of art. I wake up and go make art. Sometimes it’s on a TV set, or written, and most days it’s drawings and poems, but I’ve never really thought of them as separate enterprises. One thing feeds the other.
One thing that’s immediately evident about you, Tony, is that you’re aware. You’re relevant. I assume learning is important to you?
It’s crucial to me. I’m constantly learning because you need input to create output. When I started acting, I took classes and did training. There’s a certain intuition to it but also a great deal of craft. As an artist you have this fat toolbox of your own journey and experience, and the more you learn the fatter that box gets. I try to stay very aware.