You may not know the name Jim Fitzpatrick, but you know his art. His infamous Che Guevara 2-tone print is recognized around the world. I’d seen it many times before, on t-shirts, posters and websites; but never knew the creator. It wasn’t until I got into the ‘70s Irish rock band “Thin Lizzy” that I became curious about this fellow.
Thin Lizzy had a string of hits in the 1970s. Their biggest global single was “The Boys Are Back In Town”, off of their 1976 LP “Jailbreak”. I was entranced by the comic-book-style art of the cover of Jailbreak, the beautiful painting of the cover of “Black Rose: A Rock Legend” (Axl Rose has a tattoo of it on his arm), and the intricate stylings of “Johnny The Fox”. Lizzy was the brain-child of Phil Lynott. He was the writer of nearly every song and was the band leader. He also had a distinct vision of what he wanted for his album covers. The person he chose as the artist of all those beloved covers was Jim Fitzpatrick, who ended up becoming one of Lynott’s best friends.
Doing some quick research on Google and Wikipedia lead me to the revelation that Fitzpatrick was known for a work of art much more well known than Thin Lizzy LP covers. The Che Guevara print was his Citizen Kane. I wanted to know more about Jim. Why did he do the Che Guevara print? Why did he publish it anonymously and made it royalty-free? How did he meet Phil Lynott and get to do the Lizzy album covers? When talking to Jim—from his home in Dublin, Ireland—I found out the answers to all of these questions and more.
I was surprised to find out that the inspiration for the Guevara portrait was from Jim meeting Che in-person, in 1961. I was almost more surprised to find out that Jim met Che, while working in a bar, when he was only 16 years old.
“The bar was in Kilkee, It was a hotel bar, (in a hotel) called the Marine Hotel. I was working as a student. This will give you a laugh. I was sent down there to earn money for a pilgrimage to Rome. We weren’t allowed to take our parents’ money.
“I went to a Franciscan. I have a great love for the Franciscan order, I went down there to earn money and I was there about a month. In walked Che Guevara one Sunday morning after mass.
“I recognized him and I got talking to him. His English was very good. He pretended he couldn’t speak English very well, but his English was very good. The problem was that for years nobody believed me. First of all they didn’t believe that Che Guevara was ever in Ireland and secondly that I ever met him.”
Why was Che in Ireland?
“He was on a stopover, there’s a southern airbase in Ireland, in Shannon Airport. They did have a lot of American troops there, passing through Ireland on the way to the different wars, because they had to all pass through Shannon.
We were a neutral country and we had a Soviet airbase here for many, many years. Not many people know these things.”
Was he a nice guy?
“He was absolutely charming, wonderful, interesting character. I took to him immediately. He was disarmingly humorous. If you read anything about Che Guevara, if it doesn’t mention his sense of humor, just put the book down and read something else. He was very quick with it”
“I did, of course, it was a wonderful film. It’s the nearest that comes to the truth, you know?”
The Che portrait, were you inspired to do it because you met him?
“Well, what happened after that, I came from a very political family, remember I was only about 16. I followed his career after that because you don’t meet that many people when in a little southern town like Kilkee. The most famous person in Kilkee was likely the actor Richard Harris who went on to do ‘Camelot’.
“There’s a ton of authenticating stuff on that. Just to run this by you very quickly, because it will take all day otherwise. I did a number of versions of the poster, but the first poster I did was while he was still alive in 1967.
“He was martyred in November ’67. I did mine about April, May and it was in a magazine, ‘Stern Magazine’, had a big story on it. ‘Stern’ is a German magazine. Many of the magazines and periodicals and newspapers covered the plight of Che Guevara in the coming years.
“This was a famous story, it’s not like nobody knew about it, you know? So when he was murdered, I was outraged. I was asked to take part in a Che exhibition in London called ‘Viva Che’, in his honor. That’s when I did ‘The Rite of Blackthorn’. That one was number 3 in the series. I did about 10 posters all together on Che. But anyway, long story cut short, that poster—when I went over to London a couple of months later—was everywhere.
“This is 1968. I did it some time around January or December of ’67‑’68 for the exhibition in London in May 1968. The exhibition site was “Viva Che”. I never saw the artwork again, and I never saw the painting again. But I did keep the artwork. There was no scanning around, everything had to be photographic. I made a [photographic] negative of the original.”
Did Che get a chance to see the portrait before he died?
“Oh, not at all. No, I had no contact whatsoever with him really. He was back in Ireland quite a few times, you know? There’s a very famous episode in Che’s history that you won’t read in the history books.
“He went to Algiers before he went to Bolivia, where he denounced American imperialism as usual, and then went on to denounce Soviet imperialism. And for that he had to be exiled, because the Cuban economy was entirely dependent on Soviet Russia, right?
“So, he had to go, and obviously, do something else with his life. He was Minister of Finance, and he decided to become a revolutionary. He gave his life in a God forsaken part of the world, not doing anything. Except a couple of peasants, who were terrified of him, when everybody was batting at him, you know?
“When you see the film [Che (2008)], I believe it is really accurate. I have talked to a lot of people with length of it. I remember as well, the other thing he (Che) told was—it’s really important for me—was that he was Irish. Which, the family aren’t that wise on, I can tell you. His father was Ernesto Lynch. He was one of the Lynch’s. He was one of the wild tribes of Galway. One of the most dangerous too. Lynch Law comes from that family. You know, to ‘lynch somebody’ in America?”
The 2-tone portrait you did of him, was that based on the photo of him?
“If you go through the chronology, you’ll see the first one I did was a poor version of that image. I didn’t have anything much to work from, except the small tiny photograph, of the demonstration in Paris. With that poster held high.
“I had no idea who the photographer was. I had no idea of anything. In those days, I didn’t even know of a copier or anything like that. As far as I was concerned, I found that image, the one that looked most like the man I met.
“His hair wasn’t as long when I met him, but that looked like him, he had a great face. I did a couple versions of that. Then finally, through the good grace of Jean Paul Sartre the philosopher, through a magazine called ‘Provo’, the anarchist’s magazine.
“I got a copy of the photograph, and worked from that. Gave me a much better source of reference. (My portrait) is referenced in, “From Christ to Coke“, by Professor Martin Kemp. (Kemp) is the Emeritus Professor in the history of art in Oxford University. He’s an authority on everything to do with that. Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is in at number 5 (of most iconic images), and my graphic is in at number 6.
“(However) this (Che print) was not a major part of my life. It’s now a major part of my life. It wasn’t at the time. It’s just something else I did. I did a lot of revolutionary posters at that time. Around the same time—about a year later—Bobby Kennedy was murdered, and I did a poster of him.”
Going to your beginnings: How early in your life did you realize that you enjoy creating art?
“From when I was a kid, that’s all I ever wanted to do. My grandfather, who I didn’t know, was an artist. His daughter was a superb artist, did Celtic illumination. Even though I didn’t know them, they were long dead by the time I realized.
“My grandfather died in 1912, his daughter about 10 months later. I didn’t know them. I had 2 books of cartoons from my grandfather. In a way I felt connected. All I ever did when I was young was draw. All I ever did when I was in school was draw.
“I remember a teacher in Francisca, in my class, going over and giving a compliment because I was drawing. That was during math. Then he picked up the drawing and said, ‘Oh, oh. I don’t think we’ve done anything to teach you.’ At that time I thought, ‘Oh, that’s nice. He didn’t give me a whack.’”
Was your family supportive of you going into an art career?
“Oh, yeah. My mother was, absolutely. Loved arts, loved anything to do with art. What I did was I went in. In those days, if anybody got a job, You were doing well to have a job, like on $2 a week.
“I worked in advertising. I started in advertising. I had no clue what I was doing. I was asked to do a layout, and I had to ask the guy beside me, ‘What’s a layout?’ [laughs] That’s how ignorant I was. I knew all of the art. I became very good at advertising, I was trying to influence the highest paid professions in the country. Did a lot of work in England as well, and abroad.”
Besides doing art for advertising, did you also write copy?
“I love all that stuff. I used to write my own copies. I used to make my own headlines. I was good indeed.”
Were you mainly a copywriter, or did you do design as well?
“First of all as a group director, I was an art director. I had a group of people working for me even though I was only a kid. Picking for accounts, that kind of thing. I left advertising in ’71, ’72, I think.”
That was probably a good day job for you.
“Oh, it was amazing. I was earning a fortune. The minute I left advertising the economy collapsed. We had what was called the oil crisis,
Why did you leave advertising?
“I wanted to be an artist.”
At what point did you actually become self‑sufficient after you left advertising?
“I’ve barely been self‑sufficient all my life ever since is the best way to put it, because I don’t earn any money from the Che image. I never take money for it.
It’s being used at the moment in a movie, and I refuse to take any money just so they make a donation to the local children’s hospital, which is what I do with everybody. Though I do sell limited edition prints of the image with the consent of Guevara family. That’s a different thing. I had always been the creator, but I had made it copyright free. It’s a bit like Pandora’s box. When you’ve opened it you can’t shut it again.”
I read that you were planning on trying to get the copyright secured so you could donate money from the proceeds to the family of Che.
“Something like that. Let me tell you exactly what. I was with his daughter last year and with the Cuban ambassador here. She’s a great friend of mine. She helps me enormously with this. It’s a very complicated situation.
“In other words, here’s the artist who created the Che image. Gave it away, made it copyright free so it would proliferate. Then re‑copyrighted in 2011. November 2011, I re‑copyrighted it by producing a limited edition print from the artwork, the same artwork, printed in exactly the same manner. Silkscreen.
“Nobody’s done that before, so it’s new ground I’m breaking. I simply took back the copyright for the reason that I felt it was (subjected to) crass commercial exploitation.
“(It’s a) black and white image, with no royalties, not going to me or anyone else. Not that I’ve ever taken money for the image. I have made an agreement; I will hand over the image and all rights in perpetuity to the Cuban people to be administered by the Guevara family. The Guevara Cultural Centre in Havana—you can soon find out anyway—should be built by now.
“I also gave them the original paintings. I did a large oil painting, which I did back in La Havana. They have all the legal documentation, but I am waiting for them to come back to me. The reason they (the legal documentation) haven’t come back to me is that it’s immensely complicated, like do (the Guevara family) want to spend the rest of their life having to fight for this? On the other hand, they did say to me—in reference to the photographers—that they stole her father, and she wants him back.
“This hopefully will be a way of helping that. I’ve no wish to get involved in Cuban politics or interfamily politics. What I really just want to do is hand it over to the best possible goodwill and hopefully all the royalties will go to the Children’s Hospitals in Havana.
“Having said that, I give it in solidarity rather than in charity, because they have the best medical system in the world. Better than the United States or Ireland and both of ours are pretty good. They have a cure for cancer.
“35,000 Italians flying there every year, charter flights to get to Cuba. The cancer cure costs 500 dollars for a vile of it and if you’re Cuban it only cost 10. You can buy that stuff and it’s cheap at the price, and it is a cure. It’s based on the sting of a scorpion. I don’t want to go on about it, but Ilia explained this to me, she’s a doctor pediatrician herself, at great length and it’s proven to work. It’s as simple as that.”
Only a few years after your Che portrait, you got involved in doing album covers for Thin Lizzy. How did you meet Phil Lynott, and get involved with his band?
“I was introduced to Phil by his manager, who is a good friend of mine and we played football on the same team for years. Frank Murray introduced me to Philip one day. He said Phillip wanted to meet me, because he wanted someone to do album covers.
“He already had a man called Tim Booth, a very good artist who’s still around at the moment, a fine artist, but Tim was in a band called Dr. Strangely Strange, and they took off virtually immediately. Roger Dean did his very first album cover for Dr. Strangely Strange. That’s how good they were. That meant he couldn’t do the album covers.
“So I was asked to step in, and the rest is history. I did as many as Philip could get me. Sometimes the record companies are terrible. I was trying to make a consistent path in terms of imagery so that if you put all the images output up on a record tree, on a shelf, there’d be a consistency of imagery in terms of graphics even though each graphic would be totally different. There’d be a sort of continuity.”
“Isn’t that the one with the skeleton. Lennie or something, is that his name?”
Yes, the kind of zombie‑esque kind of look to it, and he had a whole vision for different album covers and stuff, and then he always had a struggle with what the band management wanted.
“If you ever look at Chicago, for instance, that American band, you can immediately visualize their logo. They did that logo. It even ended up in chocolate, the photographic cover of an album, and that’s how consistency works. Very few people have that vision.”
It’s building a brand, just like what you were doing in advertising.
“Yes, exactly, but it’s more than that. It’s continuity of art and continuity of style. When you’ve done something good you keep it. But, unfortunately, as they got bigger and bigger the record company were really being taken over. I was dealing with artists, and I was dealing with musicians from the very beginning, but by the time I finished I was dealing with accountants and bean counters.
So tell me, as far as that’s concerned, can you give me an example? What did that look like? Was there an album cover you wanted to do and they said, “No, actually we’d like you to go this direction?”
“Oh, tons of them. You see on the Flickr site album covers that never appeared. The best one was called ‘Thunder and Lightning’, and they didn’t like because it looked more the same, but if you see it it’s completely different from my other work but yet you’d know it’s from the same artist. I believe greatly in the idea of an iconic image, something that people can see and relate to immediately. It doesn’t need an explanation. You know what I mean?”
Yes, because it sticks with you forever, like the album cover “Black Rose” is iconic. Axl Rose has that image tattooed on his arm.
“That’s right. Axl Rose was a big Thin Lizzy fan as well. I’ll tell you another story you don’t know. Tom Suza, who was the manager of Guns n’ Roses at the time, himself and Axl rang up my publisher in America because they wanted me to do the cover. The publisher told them I lived somewhere in the Midwest. I was living in Ireland at the time. We hadn’t got email. We hadn’t got Skype. We hadn’t got anything like that back in those days. So I missed out doing the Guns n’ Roses first album cover, which would have been real fun. Fine band. Tom Suza’s a good friend of mine still, you know?”
By the way, the Thunder and Lighting” album cover they used was horrid. It’s not a good album cover.
“It’s awful. Do you know what’s awful about it? It’s done by a very fine photographer called Bob Carlos Clarke, an Irish photographer who committed suicide a couple years ago, but that was one of his first efforts.
“That wasn’t the only example. It was ‘Bad Reputation’, I think. I was in America at the time, and there was a mix‑up, and Phil ended up in Madison, Wisconsin while I was living in Madison Connecticut. And—again—there was no email, no communication except telephone; so everything got shuffled and lost, and I did a beautiful cover for that as well.”
Is your artwork for Bad Reputation available anywhere? Fans would kill to see the “Bad Reputation” unused album cover.
“No, I haven’t. Listen, I have an attic full of this stuff, and as I find it I scan it and put it up on Facebook or Flickr. Well, what was the best…there was one beauty I did for…what was it called? I can’t remember the name of the album. ‘The Adventures of Thin Lizzy’, yes. They ended up getting a very mediocre cartoonist to do the fucking cover, which really annoyed me.
“But let’s go backwards. At the very beginning myself and Phil worked together. Phil had total control. As time went on and the band got bigger and bigger he still had that control. But after a while drugs got in the way with him, with the management, with the record company. They were all out of their fucking tree most of the time, to be honest.
“I think he would never have allowed somebody to tell him what to do, but I think— as time went on and the record—what’s the word, right way to describe it? As the band peaked in America, the follow‑up to ‘Jailbreak’ and ‘The Boys Are Back in Town’ did not succeed the way they hoped to for a number of reasons.
“One, the tour was pulled because Brian Robertson broke his hand in a fight. The band never really made it in America like it should have. The record company was getting nervous about Philip’s habits. Philip was becoming kind of erratic. So after that you might say the record company, well, they had to take control of the whole situation, and the people I was dealing with in beginning were artists and musicians themselves. Now they were accountants. I was dealing with accountants who hadn’t a fucking clue so you can see the deterioration of the album covers. Luckily none of them are mine, you know?
“I’ll give you a good example. If you go on to my Facebook page, I don’t know if it’s on my Flickr page. I have two Facebook pages. Jim Fitzpatrick and the Jim Fitzpatrick Gallery. Go for Thin Lizzy stuff, and you’ll find a logo I did for Philip for an album famously called “Trouble Boys,” and the logo was then to be the album cover.
“It was the most extraordinary piece I’ve ever done. It looks like it’s all computer generated. It’s actually hand painted, and it’s all mirrored. But that one is on my print page. You go to jimfitzpatrick.com there’s Thin Lizzy stuff there as well. It’s certainly there because I sell it as a print. It was one of my finest pieces and never saw the light of day at all. And it’s old Thin Lizzy logo, the one you’re familiar with, but I just did a… I took it to the ultimate stage I could take it to, and Philip loved it, but in the end the band or the record company decided to do something else.
“There’s another album cover you’ll see there of Philip. A drawing of the boys in action with sort of lights and spotlights and lots of action, and that was for a cover called ‘Lizzy Killers’. Iron Maiden came out with an album around that time called ‘Killers’, so that was shelved.
“It’s not just accountants and drugs that got in the way. Sometimes things happened, and you just had to change directions. But that was one of the finest pieces I did, and that was used later all over Scandinavia as an album cover. But some of the work I did was used in Japan even though it was never used in England or America.
Phil Lynott was an amazing musician. He seemed like a fascinating person. It’s such a tragic loss.
“He was enormously charismatic. There’s no doubt about that. He was amazing. In Philip’s case there were a lot of reasons for his demise, his death, but the one I always felt, the one that killed him I always felt was his sense of responsibility. I remember telling me he was running on empty in one of the very last conversations I had with him.
I remember he was taking drugs because he was sick once, and he had to tour. He had to get up on stage so he used coke, and I said to him, ‘For fuck’s sake, that crap is dangerous. It really is dangerous. It builds up and then it kills you. And if it doesn’t kill you it will certainly damage you and slow you down.’
“Because I’m a health fanatic myself, but I don’t make judgments about people who use drugs. I just try to…what’s the word for it…explain to them that’s not a good idea. I smoke dope all the time myself and I’m still here.
“But aside from that heavy drugs I just think are so dangerous even though they’re wonderful to take, but health wise they’ll destroy you. You might as well take fucking cyanide, you know?
“But he said to me, ‘Jim, I can’t stop.’ And I said, ‘Phil, you have got to stop, you are going to kill yourself,’ and he said, ‘I can’t.’ He said, ‘I have 35 people who depend on me, and their families depend on me and their children.’ I never thought of it like that before.
“He felt a huge weight on him. It starts off bright eyed and bushy tailed. You get up on stage, and everybody loves you. There’s a small crew and you are all together, there are seven of you. Seven crew and a couple of band members and maybe one or two friends like myself, who come and go. On tour, they turn up here and turn up there.
“I have a friend in a band, I’m talking about Chris, a friend of mine. A superb Irish band, even though he was a small bit at the time, a huge band. I said to Chris, who was the manager at the time, ‘You’ve got to manage these, Chris they are money in the bank.’ He said to me, almost in the same way as Philip said, ‘Have you any idea what it’s like?’
“He said, ‘I was having dinner with him and Blur and some of Blur’s family.’ He said, ‘You don’t just look after one guy. You look after his wife, look after his mother, his sister, his father, everybody. You have got to make sure they are all happy. When you have 4 guys in a band, multiply that by about 16 for each of them.’ He said, ‘I wouldn’t have the time in my life to take over U2 if they wanted me at the moment.’
“He had been through that, the whole thing with Philip. He did drugs himself, big time. It is well known, so I’m not breaking any confidences. He came back from that after a heart attack. He never went back to drugs. I had a lovely moment with his children, and hopefully lived, and I haven’t spoken to him for about a year and a half, happy ever after. He was certainly happy when I saw him last, he just kept it simple. One band, and look after it, that’s it.”
Do you still stay in touch with any of Phil’s family?
“Yes, Caroline is a good friend of mine, always, and the children. I brought the kids to The Darkness‘s first concert in Dublin. That was before, when I was working for the Darkness. I think there are about 6 grandchildren at this stage. Did you ever see the Darkness in their heyday, when they were number 1 in America, number 1 all over the world? They were wonderful stuff. They asked me to do a couple of covers. Only one of them appeared, that was the Christmas Album. That should be on the website somewhere.”
Jim and I talked for nearly an hour, about everything from Che Guevara to Thin Lizzy. We didn’t get a chance, however, to discuss his beautiful paintings of Irish lore. These can be viewed on his gallery sites (see below). He’s published books of his art as well, and these can be purchased on his Amazon page (also below).
Want to see Jim’s art?
Visit his website:
Check him out on Flickr:
Interested in purchasing prints?
They’re available on his Etsy page:
Copies of Jim’s books can be purchased, used, on his Amazon page: