James Rizzi, painter
1998 Sport Artist of the Year
“Urban Primitive in 3-D”
According to the themes of James Rizzi’s artwork, happiness is a Brooklyn childhood, and delight lives in the details. Rizzi’s bright, cheerful silk screens depict every sort of urban activity from traffic jams on Broadway and boats on the Hudson to baseball in the park. His primitive celebrations of American daily life qualify him as a graphic great-grandson of the phenomenal Primitive artist, Grandma Moses, as well as the playful Surrealist, Paul Klee.
Rizzi’s art style is as quintessentially contemporary American as his route to fame and adoption into mass media popularity. He sold his first etching in 1969 for one dollar. Five years later, he was catapulted to celebrity phenom status when his pictures were admired at a New York street fair by sculptor, Chaim Gross. As Rizzi’s work subsequently appeared on music album covers, stage sets, animated films, posters, cars, and airplane shells, their prices soared. Rizzi’s serigraph titled, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” achieved cult trivia question status by its placement on the wall of Seinfeld’s TV apartment.
In 1996, the International Olympic Museum (IOC) released the Rizzi catalog, Dreams of Sport. The book included a forward by IOC President, Juan Antonio Samaranch, and text by famous New York trend chronicler, George Plimpton. In 1997, Rizzi was designated the official artist for the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. In 1998, he was selected as the official artist for the FIFA World Cup Soccer, France. Throughout all the hullaballoo, Rizzi continued refining the complexity of his colorful, cartoon-like designs and his positive presentation of the details of contemporary life. Rizzi’s happy New York boyhood has helped all of us appreciate the intricacies of urban culture with more enthusiasm and imagination
Rizzi died Dec. 26, 2011, at his New York studio. He was 61.