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Riccardo Vecchio: The Q&A

By Peggy Roalf   Monday September 29, 2014

Q: Originally from Italy, what are some of your favorite things about living and working in New York City?

A: Because I’m not from here, I originally fell in love with the New York that I got to know from books, movies and photography. I kept nurturing that idea when I first came here in the same way. Moments of dramatic lighting, and snippets of architectural grandeur always dazzled me, and they still manage to evoke tremendous moods and atmospheres for me. I can still imagine and feel the New York of Hopper, Feininger, Allen, and appreciate E.B. White’s eloquent and poetic homage to the chaos of city life here. 

I like the esthetic contradictions of a city that is trying to be a city of the future, while at the same time struggling with an aging and crumbling infrastructure from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. I love that New York is easily accessible by public transportation and that it is home to a multitude of ethnicities, cultures, and gastronomies. Having said this, the struggles of daily life here can be an enormous challenge that you cannot ignore. Unaffordable rents for working and middle-class New Yorkers make it very difficult to enjoy some of what makes this city so great. 


Left: Gillo Dorfles (for La Repubblica); right: Yayoi Kusama (for Newsweek).

Q: How and when did you first become interested in art and illustration?

A: From as far back as I can remember I loved to draw. Maybe that’s why when I got older and realized I was never going to make into medschool, I started to take it seriously! It was around that time that I began studying graphic design in Germany. But it wasn’t until I came to graduate school in New York that I understood that illustration was considered a separate field of study from art and design. When I was young I took for granted the artistry that I was surrounded by in Italy.  But it definitely made a great impression on me; even though it never occurred to me that I could imitate or create something that even began to resemble what I saw all around me. My early sources of inspiration came mostly from French, Belgian and Italian comic books, the weekly Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck magazines, and the cover art for model building sets of war boats, planes and tanks.

Q: Do you keep a sketchbook? What is the balance between the art you create on paper versus In the computer?

A: I am not a regular sketchbook keeper. When I travel I keep a notebook, but they are really just notes and scribbles to myself. All the original artwork I do is created by hand, and I always start a project, no matter what it is for, in this way. I use Photoshop to fine-tune colors and adjust compositions.

Q: How do you organize your time to enable you to work on painting as well as illustration?

A: The two disciplines are never really isolated from each other. Often they overlap. I stick with some paintings for 6 to 8 months. Illustration has a quick turnaround time, and the different pace and mindset can certainly cause friction, but I try my best to push ideas and solutions back and forth in order to enrich both.

Q: What do you like best about your workspace?

A: Without question, the light. I recently I moved my studio from Greenpoint to Queens, and for the first time I have what I've only heard and read that all painters rave about: Northern Light!

Q: Do you think it needs improvement, if so, what would you change?

A: Yes, a little more space would be helpful.

Q: What is the most important item in your studio?

A: Again, the light. And the quiet. Knock on wood: no sledgehammers and bands this time!

Untitled IV (Pasubio), 2014.

Q: You do so many portraits--do you prefer to work from photographs, videos or from life?

A: Working from life is always a luxury, but not always possible. I don’t mind working from photos, especially if they are the ones I’ve taken myself. Screenshots from videos also work well. It’s always useful to have several source materials to work with in order to avoid copyright issues.

Q: Structures and the built environment figure large in your paintings and illustrations. Have you studied architecture? 

A: No, but people ask me that all the time. When I was in university in Germany, the floor above our design department was the architecture department. I always admired their huge blueprints and models, and every once in a while an architecture student would ask me to do some of their architectural renderings. 

Q: What was your favorite book as a child? 

A: “The Book of the Happy Lion,” by Louise Fatio and Roger Duvoisin.

Q: What is the best book you’ve recently read?

A: Mark Twain’s “Innocents Abroad”. It is a series of letters and caricatures of romantic travel books from the mid 19th century, written during his travels to Europe and the Middle East in 1867. Because of my own recent travels, I've been particularly attracted to travel essays and diaries. Besides Twain’s wit and canny observation skills in mocking American manners and European attitudes, it is an eerie reminder of how unresolved some of the issues he talks about are to this day.

Q: Who and what are some of your strongest influences?

A: The list is long and reaches across disciplines. It also changes according to the times and my mood. But quickly off the top of my head, these are certainly some of the most relevant: P. Uccello, P. Breugel, M.Beckmann, G. Morandi, Matisse, D.Hockney, S.Spencer, A. Boetti, S. Polke, Antonio Garcia Lopez, M. Anderson, B. Munari, J.Albers, M.Antonioni, R.Rossellini, I.Bergmann, R. Bresson, S. Kubrik.

Q: What was the last art exhibition you saw and what did you take away from it?

A: I’ve been traveling a lot recently, so the last exhibit I saw was called “First World War 1914-1918” at the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin. It was more of a history exhibit, but to me history, art and graphic design are co-dependent. I was doing research for a new series of painted works that attempt to memorialize the historical significance of an almost unrecognizable landscape. More specifically, how the topography has influenced battlefields, and how nature has healed some of the physical damage done to a variety of gruesome battle sites into what they are today.

Q: Where do you teach—and what do you like best about teaching?

A: I’ve been teaching a drawing class at SVA for the better part of a decade. I like the dialogue with young minds, and revisiting your own learning process in some of their work is an eye opener. It is extremely satisfying to see in them a sense of awe when they realize that they can grasp something that they could not have fathomed how to do only a week before. 

Q: What is your hobby?

A: Music, (I play the drums), and soccer. 

Q: If you could be anywhere but New York where would you be?

A: Berlin, or the Italian countryside.

Q: What would be your last supper?

A: Anything my girlfriend makes—she’s a great cook! Although I might suggest "risotto alla milanese".

Untitled VIII (Marmolada), 2014.

Riccardo Vecchio is an artist based in New York. After His studies in Italy and Germany, a Fulbright scholarship brought him to New York in 1994 to The School of Visual Arts MFA program. He has been a faculty member at the School of Visual Arts since 2000.  Mr. Vecchio has won numerous awards from juried competitions like Communication Arts, American Illustration, and The Society of Publication Designers among others. His work has been published in a wide variety of magazines and other print media in the United States and abroad including Atlantic Monthly, GQ, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, Esquire, Harper’s, L’Espresso (Italy), La Republica (Italy), Rolling Stone, Newsweek, Süddeutsche Zeitung (Germany), The Wall Street Journal, Vibe, The Washington Post, and Wired Magazine among others. His corporate clients have included The Verve Music Group, Adobe, FedEx, American Express, and The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).

Mr Vecchio's work has also appeared in a variety of theatrical and media outlets including several Broadway and off-Broadway productions, in addition to book covers for Penguin, Putnam, Feltrinelli (Italy) and Mondadori (Italy). His works have been exhibited in New York and Europe. At the end of December 2012, Mr. Vecchio was the featured artist in a live stage performance with the percussion ensemble “SO Percussion” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). In January of 2013, Mr. Vecchio was the guest contemporary artist in connection with the George Bellows retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The past months he has been working in the Italian Alps on a series of works studying the topography and natural transformation of infamous WW1 battle sites. Instagram.

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