John Kelly Fitzpatrick dedicated his life to promoting the arts in his home state of Alabama. He was born in Elmore County, a rural area north of Montgomery. Fitzpatrick initially enrolled in the University of Alabama to study journalism, but soon left to attend the Art Institute of Chicago in 1912 where he studied for a year. In 1918, Fitzpatrick enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in France where he was severely wounded by shrapnel. His injuries left him badly scarred on the upper half of his body, and he later commented that the experience led him to focus on the spiritual aspects of his life rather than on material gain.
Following the war, Fitzpatrick returned to Alabama and worked as a landscape and genre painter. In 1926, he traveled to Europe once again, this time under much better circumstances. He spent several months at the Académie Julian in Paris and was inspired by the work of the Fauves and the Post-Impressionists. When he returned to Alabama the following year he incorporated bright colors and exaggerated lines into his depictions of the Southern landscape.
Fitzpatrick became a leading figure in promoting the arts of his home state. Prior to 1930, artists had very few venues to display their work, so Fitzpatrick led a small group of artists, known as the Morningview Painters, and founded the Alabama Art League with the intent of finding places to hold exhibitions. The success of the resulting exhibitions led to the formation of the Montgomery Museum of Art in 1930. Fitzpatrick served on the original board of directors and the exhibition committee for the newly opened museum.
In 1933, Fitzpatrick and his friends Sallie B. Carmichael, Warree Carmichael LeBron, and Frank Applebee founded the Dixie Art Colony, also known as Poka-Hutchi, a Creek Indian expression meaning the “gathering of picture writers.” It was located on the banks of Lake Jordan near Wetumpka, Alabama. Guest artists to the colony included Anne Goldthwaite, an Alabama native who taught at the Art Students League in New York, and Lamar Dodd, head of the art department at the University of Georgia.
Fitzpatrick is best known for his landscapes, although he also painted portraits and still-lifes. Inspired by his time in France, Fitzpatrick advocated painting en plein air, or out of doors, and he often led students to picturesque locations of the Alabama countryside. Fitzpatrick’s mature style can be classified as Regionalist, referring to a movement that rejected abstract art in favor of more traditional scenes, usually depicting the local scene and a rural way of life. Fitzpatrick's work is represented in many prestigious collections, both private and public, throughout the South.