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Mystical Bloody Magic

Living With Art: A Home and Studio Visit with Painter Erin Fitzpatrick by Cara Ober

Chances are, if you’ve been living in Baltimore for a year or more, you’ve seen Erin Fitzpatrick‘s densely patterned portraits of beautiful Baltimoreans. The MICA graduate has honed her painting focus on portraits since 2008.

Over the past decade, Fitzpatrick, also known from her popular Instagram handle @Fitzbomb, has produced a prolific oeuvre of hundreds of paintings and drawings of artists, musicians, business people, her peers, and commissioned subjects. The painter now works with clients all over the US and on three continents, with an ambition and work ethic that doesn’t allow her to ever sit still.

These days the artist is working on projects in Baltimore, Seattle and NYC, a new body of personal work, and will be featured in New American Paintings edition #130 (available July 2017) and in the September issue of Baltimore Magazine.

Although she didn’t set out to be a portrait painter, Fitzpatrick recalls an early experience with this type of depiction. “When I was in 5th grade I used to draw faces that I’d trade for things like getting to use someone’s cool marker set,” she says. “I’d draw them in black and white and my classmates were really into coloring them in. In high school and college I did a ton of self portraits.”

Besides the rapid evolution of Fitzpatrick’s work into large, ambitious, and patterned figures in space, what’s fascinating about her art career and practice is how financially successful she has managed to be without gallery representation.

For Fitzpatrick, portraiture became her modus operandi for a number of different, yet converging, reasons. “I saw it [portraits] as an unlimited subject matter,” she says. “I’d never run out of people to paint, and it was a really great way to connect with my audience. I almost always got to know the people I painted, and many of them shared their portraits on their social media and brought their friends and families to my exhibits. I met so many new people when I initially started this project.”

When she first started exhibiting portraits in 2008, her main goals were to develop a personal painting style and to depict her subjects in a way that showed who they were as people. The compositions were headshots with solid white or gray backgrounds, placing the focus entirely on the model. She painted and drew hundreds of portraits during the first five years and all explored the way a portrait could represent a specific individual.

However, at a certain point Fitzpatrick’s interest shifted and her desire to up the ante took over. “Now I’m making paintings where the subject is placed in a highly patterned setting,” she explains, of the dense and beautifully patterned spaces and clothing that function as decorative camouflage for her subjects.

“The model serves as a focal point in the composition, but his or her personal identity is not as important. This allows me to explore setting, wardrobe and create characters in each piece. When I get away from ‘this is a portrait of an individual who you may recognize,’ I’m more free to approach the painting through formal aspects like how I decide to use line, shape, brushstroke and pattern.”

Besides the rapid evolution of Fitzpatrick’s work into large, ambitious, and patterned figures in space, what’s fascinating about her art career and practice is how financially successful she has managed to be without gallery representation.

“Social media has been my number one marketing tool,” says Fitzpatrick, who has thousands of online followers and built strong relationships with patrons living in Baltimore, as well as other cities and countries. “I used to use Facebook, but that just seems to reach the local market. Now I pretty much exclusively use Instagram. It has potential to reach both a local and international audience. I also invested in high-end press kits (from Gilah Press) and keep a profile on in addition to my personal website.”

Looking around the Mt. Vernon apartment that serves as the artist’s home and studio, it becomes obvious that she consistently sets ambitious goals for herself – both short and longterm. Besides a wall of images that inspire her visually and professionally, there are numerous lists pinned to the wall, notebooks of plans, and detailed research on art competitions and exhibitions.

“If you are really clear about what you want, and are willing to work for it, you can figure out how to get it,” says the artist, who has been able to make a majority of her income from her painting. “I try to picture the ‘big dream’ goals and work every day to get to them without making excuses,” she says. “I used to think that big opportunity only really happened for people who had things handed to them. Getting into that mindset is just an excuse. You have to be willing to really do work.”

As Erin Fitzpatrick’s career continues to expand, the question of whether to stay and work in Baltimore vs. moving to a larger cultural hub becomes more relevant. For now, the artist plans to stay in Baltimore where the rent is cheap and she can travel often to NY and Brooklyn to visit artist friends and complete commissioned projects.

“These days it doesn’t matter as much where you live to pursue an art career, especially the more established you become,” she says. “It probably would have benefitted me to live in a bigger city right after art school, but that’s all speculation.”

She muses, “I’m open to living in other places if that’s where life takes me, but I don’t think I’d base the move on my career; I’d go just because that’s where I wanted to move. I’ve always kind of pictured myself ending up in L.A. one day.”

Author Cara Ober is BmoreArt’s Founding Editor. She has the utmost respect for any artist with the discipline and tenacity to make a living from their work.

Check out Erin Fitzpatrick’s work in New American Paintings edition #130 (available July 2017) and in the September issue of Baltimore Magazine. Contact the artist directly for quotes on commissions and modeling gigs.

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