Jamie Fitzpatrick grew up on an estate for a large house in Scotland where his father worked. His childhood was spent living and working side by side with the grandiose, understanding from an early age what social disparity of wealth and lifestyle looked like. We might at first think that Fitzpatrick’s work stems from these interactions with British iconography as a youth, seeing the male figure held in regard within the narrative of Empire, and how power was, and still is, visualised and portrayed. Instead, it was the similarity in everything except wealth and lifestyle that made his younger self more conscious of the divide. By not considering wealth in basic binary terms Fitzpatrick understands that power exerts itself in more nuanced ways.
Fitzpatrick has been invited to respond to Rochdale’s collection of artefacts relating to the Peterloo Massacre of 1819, an event which saw 18 people killed and hundreds injured when a crowd gathered to demand reforms, agitated by the economic hardship and widespread unemployment due to the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815). Split between two rooms, ‘He He He He’ presents 4 male protagonists loosely based on canonical figures such as Elvis Presley, the art-world all-star Henry Moore dressed as a cowboy and an amalgamation of Charles I and Vincent Price as Matthew Hopkins: Witchfinder General. Each character has been aptly named with one word titles relating to the figures they are based on, highlighting their literal qualities and reason for being selected. For example, speaking with Fitzpatrick he noted that The Magician “came from two completely separate ideas on the archetype that I simply slammed together regardless of coherence. When developing the work, I was thinking of the magician as a creator, or at least as something creative.”
In the first room, four separate black and white video works, staged with a simply painted hung canvas, shows the characters involved in Monty Python-esque actions of crudity. In relation to the show’s subject, the videos are disarming, they use theatricality and liveness – a device Fitzpatrick regularly uses and which occurs in his sculptures as well – to create childish yet cheerless portrayals of the characters. The videos are opposite to one another, all facing in, as if held in conversation. This seems to be a running device throughout ‘He He He He’, expressing the inflective and inward personalities that historic figures and celebrities might inhabit, becoming monuments to themselves.
The second room, which is large and rectangular, has been painted pink. Fitzpatrick uses scenery and background to stage his sculptures and amplify their loudness, creating a presence which is comical, suggesting to the audience to not take them seriously and enjoy their absurdity. For instance, each sculpture has exaggerated features such as overly large boots and hands, puckered lips, three heads and unsettlingly small arms. The sculptures are made from melted wax – a material that Fitzpatrick regularly employs for his work – which is cast over a steel and wood structure covered in hessian and polystyrene. He has also incorporated audio and animatronic components; the mouths of the sculptures move subtly and you hear the characters in isolated conversation with one another. Remaining honest to the personalities he has created, they speak over each other and seem to not listen to what each other says, reacting only to exert himself over the other. Fitzpatrick again stages the sculptures with hung canvas which is painted green and blue to refer to the land and sky, situating the works ‘outside’ where the videos are set and in doing so, the characters become vulnerable in their activities. What is firstly presented as acts of tenderness, intelligence and love, actually divulges sinister elements of supremacy that, as well as highlighting gender and class, references historical acts of violence such as the Peterloo Massacre by sharing their similar characteristics: masculinity, power, authority and national identity, dark instincts, violence and idiocy. This all-white male cast become figures of suppression and knowledge because they embody, in all of their abstracted elements, toxic-masculinity.