Discovering James Rizzi

I will never have the opportunity to meet James Rizzi. He died at the age of 61 in 2011. This saddens me. Having discovered some of his last remaining work in Europe at the Galerie I.D in Geneva and having done a little research, I  know I would have really liked the guy. His output was prodigious. On-line photos show a mischievous smile. His beautiful stuff makes me happy.

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“A Romantic Night on the Town” by James Rizzi, 1994. Image thanks to Galerie I.D Geneva.

It is said that during his Fine Arts studies in Florida he had classes in painting, printmaking and sculpture. He decided to combine the assignments for all three classes in one work. So he made a drawing and printed it twice. He then hand-coloured both prints and cut out parts of one, mounting the cut-outs on top of the corresponding parts of the other. By using glue and wires, he was able to leave a space between the two. Thus his trademark 3D style was born. (And he got good grades for all three assigments!)

I love the way the buildings in his jumbled cityscapes are colourful characters themselves who observe and find amusement in the mass of colourful human characters. And the detail! In “Living Near the Water,” little green men arrive by flying saucer as yet unnoticed by the heaving crowd. The buildings are happy. The people are happy. The sun is happy. The moon is happy. Humanity is crammed down by the water’s edge or into boats. But we’re left with the feeling that there’s something off-stage. What is the event that has brought such a crush of people and the simultaneous arrival of the aliens?

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“Living Near the Water” by James Rizzi, 1993. Image thanks to Galerie I.D Geneva.

A big green octopus guards a treasure chest on the sea bottom. You could look at this for hours and never discover all the little laugh-out-loud passages.

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Detail of “Living Near the Water” by James Rizzi, 1993. Image thanks to Galerie I.D, Geneva.

In 1997, Rizzi was appointed the official artist for the Montreux Jazz Festival. His poster for the event is a masterpiece.

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Poster for Montreux Jazz Festival 1997 by James Rizzi. Image thanks to Galerie I.D, Geneva.

I adore the three cat-back-up singers. You can almost hear them!

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Deatail of Poster for Montreux Jazz Festival, 1997 by James Rizzi. Image thanks to Galerie I.D, Geneva.

In his inimmitable style he painted a Lufthansa jet, a VW beetle and whole buildings. In 2008, he won a commission to design stamps for Germany. No problem guessing which one of these three gents is Rizzi!

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James Rizzi (on right) at the Inauguration of his German stamps in 2008. Image copyright: Peter Schmelzle.

But my favourite is “Visit My Friendly City.” It amuses and intrigues. Again, we have the characterful sky-scrapers and the little green men in space ships. But what is Rizzi’s humouristic off-stage story here? Why are the buildings all showing such anxiety (except the cool-cat-building)?  Do they know that the aliens will not, like tourists, find the city quite so friendly?

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“Visit My Friendly City” by James Rizzi, 1995. Image thanks to Galerie I.D, Geneva.

In 2006, Glenn O’Brien wrote about Rizzi: “His merry maximalism and delight in delirious detail and elaborate minutiae created a true art brand, a trademark style as recognizable as any in the world.” Although I’ll never discover James Rizzi in person, my visit to Galerie I.D was a delightful discovery of his so instantly recognisable beautiful stuff.

Chayan Khoi: A cyber photographer extraordinaire

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Based in Paris, Iranian born Chayan Khoi is an artist known for his mysterious, futuristic, sometimes apocalyptic, images. He is an avid traveller fascinated by everything he encounters. This 50-year-old “cyber photographer” seeks to picture the beauty, diversity and unknown of the world. Below is “Return to the Jungle”, one of his most famous pieces and one of my favorites.

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Two recent works, unveiled at yesterday’s vernissage of Chayan’s latest exhibition in Geneva, remind me of Mad Max, Fallout and Mutant Chronicles. The submarine is docked to what appears to be a hidden, arctic research station. The mechanical sharks zooming around the l’arc de triomphe are bizarre and frightening. How intriguing!

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While I’m not sure what Chayan wants to communicate with these steampunkish pieces of beautiful stuff, I’m absolutely fascinated by how the frames, resembling some sort of command centres, leaves us with (at least) a remote feeling of being in control. Perhaps it’s a warning sign of what’s to come? Thank you for the heads-up, Chayan.

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And, what in the world is the silver bullet pictured above? Made out of what appears to be a surfboard, metal and electronics, this is the first thing that caught my eye when stepping into Le New Garage. I’m a sucker for science fiction. Chayan’s spaceship (or perhaps it’s the submarine?), blinking in sync with the rest of the room, makes me feel at home.

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I love scrapbooks. But I have never seen any like the ones pictured above. Reflecting his life as a nomad, traveling nine months each year, these piles of memories tell us the history of our friend and his sources of inspiration. In the days of social media, it makes me happy when someone goes beyond Instagram and 140 characters to tell their story.

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Chayan Khoi is a cyber photographer extraordinaire. A man of many talents, working with images, frames and installations. His out-of-this-world beautiful stuff gives us insight into the limits of our own imagination. If you happen to be in Geneva this weekend, you don’t want to miss this opportunity. Le New Garage is open 14:00-20:00 and located here:

Lunds Studentkårs Karneval 1954

I love flea markets. The process of discovering, desiring and acquiring speaks to me. So does the idea of recycling old stuff. The other day, I strolled around our local “marché aux puces” here in Geneva. This is what I brought back home in exchange for 20 francs:

Lunds Studentkårs Karneval 1954

The print measures 25 x 35 centimeters. It includes both textual and graphic elements. The centaur, wearing a student cap, looks happy. Like many students approaching the light in the end of the tunnel, he probably had a few (well deserved) drinks.

Lunds Studentkårs Karneval is a student carnival taking place in Lund (Sweden) every fourth year. Dating back to 1849, each carnival has a different theme, featuring shows, food and drinks. This is the original poster of 1954 carnival. Feel the tide of history!

Hasse Alfredsson The print is signed “Alfred Lutter.” Google tells me this is actually an anagram of Hans “Hasse” Alfredsson and Carlgösta “Lutter” Wistrand, both studying at University of Lund 1954. The former (pictured to the right) is today a legendary Swedish actor, director, writer and comedian.

So, one may wonder how the heck an original print of 1954 carnival can end up at a flea market in Geneva? I guess a former exchange student (perhaps a friend of Hasse and Lutter) emptied the attic and accidentally tossed this beautiful stuff in a box labeled “Salvation Army.”

The print is now framed, hanging on a wall in my home here in Geneva. It reminds me of my Swedish roots, as well as of the excitement, anxiety, joy and pain of being a student. And how I love the work of Hasse Alfredsson. This is absolutely priceless.