“Just Fucking Do What You Want”: Leo Fitzpatrick on His Inaugural Gallery Show

Once upon a time, before the rise of the Chelsea arts district and its white cube galleries, there existed a wild and unorthodox scene bubbling up on the cross streets of New York’s East Village. In the 1980s, spaces like FUN Gallery and Gracie Mansion provided an antidote to the big-money art market and served as a launching pad for the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and David Wojnarowicz. In recent years, a new crop of young art spaces has started to pop back up in the East Village, seemingly reviving that early, fabled spirit of the irreverent, unfussy, and less obsessed with sales totals. The most recent example is Public Access on St. Mark’s Place, which opened this past fall. Founded by the actor/artist/DJ Leo Fitzpatrick, along with his partner, the gallerist and bar owner Brendan McElroy, the small storefront is bent on a wild-hearted, community-minded program that’s a welcome throwback to the city’s scrappier days.

“I’ve always wanted to create a space where it’s just open for everybody,” says Fitzpatrick. “I don’t even really call it an art gallery, I call it a community center. There’s a freedom to being on St. Marks, to experiment and be weird, and you want to give back some of that energy that it gave you when you were growing up and hanging out on the block.”

Public Access’s inaugural show this past October featured mixed-media works and painted skateboard decks by the artist and pro skateboarder Mark Gonzales, and Fitzpatrick and McElroy plan to continue filling their slate with a surprising range of insiders and outsiders, the emerging and the established. Some shows—a forthcoming exhibition tracing the history of downtown Manhattan gang culture, for example—are meant to test the very boundaries of the traditional art sphere. This try-anything-that-sounds-interesting ethos is, according to Fitzpatrick, very much a reaction to our current moment. “We’ve all gone through this collective traumatic experience, so if you’re not doing what you want, then maybe you should do something else,” he says. “It could all disappear anyway, so just fucking do what you want.”