Donald Rizzo is an artist who sees the world through fragments; fragments of color, fragments of memory, fragments of space, and fragments of who people really are. His works are kaleidoscopic visions of vibrant color which stem from his dark personal experience dealing with depression with psychotic symptoms. Born under a full moon on a lunar eclipse, Donald is nothing short of being his truest self and showcasing his unique eye that allows his viewers to create their own reality of what they see in his images.
We were delighted to receive an interview with the artist by our correspondent John Wisniewski who took the time to delve deeper into the fragments of Donald Rizzo!
JOHN: When were your first art exhibitions? When did you begin drawing and painting?
DONALD: My first exhibit was “Fragments of Color” August 2010 at Magnet in San Francisco. I began painting in 2006, my current process (color juxtaposition) started to develop in 2008. I created Raster (pixellated) paintings, the first painting was 48 x 48 with1/2 inch square pixels and a palette of 20 colors. I thought what would one look like with 1/4 inch squares and then 1/8 inch square. I discovered that 1/8 inch squares were a little to small so landed on 1/6 inch for this style. I also noticed that the palette was increasing one painting had 150 unique colors. I continued with this style through the end of 2009. It allowed me to develop mixing the paints to get the color and value I wanted. I never blended colors on the canvas but applied the paint as thick dabs of paint resulting with a textured surface, I noticed that the textured surface aided the viewers eye in blending the colors.
I had always wanted to break out of the grid and discovered Chuck Closes work, in particular his paper pulp projects. In January 2010 I completed my first painting of my current style. Refereed to as Abstract Realism or color juxtaposition. I still create a textured surface but limit the palette to 60 to 80 colors. Unlike Close who created his colors from a CMYK palette, I use color temperature to aid in creating depth. I noticed that not only was I creating juxtaposition of color, but also of ideas, concepts and images. Which can be seen in my “Shades of Purple” series.
JOHN: Whom are some artists who have influenced your work?
DONALD: There are two; Leroy Neiman; Neiman had created a set of prints for the 1976 summer olympics, and Burger King would issue a new print (poster) every week. I made sure I was there on the day they released the new poster. The impressionisticbright, vibrate colors amazed me. the second Chuck Close: unaware of this connection until 2009. In grade school 6th or 7th grade, the art teacher was discussing an exhibit he had just seen of this artist who did these dot paintings, he then showed us a print of billboard sign, which I know now is color halftone CMYK print. I was amazed at the size of the circles and how from a distance, driving down the highway we never see the dots, we see an image that is blended. Someone asked me when they saw my first paintings if I was influenced by Chuck Close; at the time I said who? As I discovered Closes work, I also discovered that he had exhibits in both Akron and Youngstown while I was in grade school. And the artist my teachers was discussing was Chuck Close.
JOHN: What are you doing when not painting or drawing?
DONALD: Sleeping. From the moment I get up in the morning until an hour before I go to bed, I’m working on my art. Weekends, holidays, 7 days a week, I’m creating. A major reason is my health. I have HIV and I developed mitochondrial toxicity (MT) from the medication. The mitochondrial in my leg muscles and upper back were most effected. I wasn’t producing adequate ATP and this greatly effected my mobility. Their was a period of time when I couldn’t raise my hands above my ears and feared I wouldn’t be able to paint much longer. I also found painting to be a healing experience both mentality and emotionally.
JOHN: Are you inspired by cinematic art?
DONALD: I had to think about this question. On the surface I’d say no, but then I think sub-consciously I would be influenced.
JOHN: Could you tell us how you developed your technique of color juxtaposition?
I was diagnosed with severe depression with psychotic symptoms. Let me start by saying when one experience delusions; thats their reality. This psychosis was adaptive for instance when I told the voices that were repeating everything I said out loud that they couldn’t know what I really thought because they can’t read my mind. Within two weeks the voices were repeating my private thoughts. When a thought entered my mind that I didn’t want them to know, I had to immediately change my thought. This was pure madness. I realized that my conscience mind was battling my sub-conscience mind. If this battle continued both minds would lose as I had numerous close calls with death during this time. With this psychosis I found myself staring at reflections, the more uneven the surface the better. Reflections in three or more surface where bits of information was used from the multiple planes the more intriguing I found them. Then I discovered that pix elated images had hidden messages, some that could be seen zoomed in and some seen zoomed out. Again my conscience and sub-conscience mind attempting communication.
With this technique Color Juxtaposition the mind must construct the shapes in the viewers mind were their sub-science mind plays a significant role. With my painting “If I Only had a Brain” there are two faces one in portrait and one in profile. The portrait is more apparent from affair and the profile is revealed up-close. There is a distance where both faces oscillate and the mind can’t stop it from oscillating. Here the viewer can experience a small fragment of my psychosis. Also because of the physics of reflected light the painting changes as light dims in the room, or one looks at the painting from a 45 degree angle as opposed to a 90 degree angle. Just like those hidden messages in my psychosis.
JOHN: How do you choose the subjects for your artwork?
DONALD: They choose me. I start with a photo and I begin to work and massage it. My sub-science plays a role and at some point during the process, I discover the message it wants me to project. Every painting I’ve done in some way I make it about me. Each painting becomes a fragment of my self portrait. My early paintings “The Lonely, The Forgotten and The Outcast” are paintings of healing. Healing from the immense pain of depression. I mentioned above about delusions being real, these paintings became the start of my healing from my reaction to this reality. As I write this I still can’t call them delusions.
And now with “Shades of Purple” as I state in the artist statement: “The time for sound bites is over. We need to move our conversations to a more productive and less condemning place. With a little bit of humility and the willingness to listen to another’s perspective, we might just have a chance to talk about solutions instead of blame.”
JOHN: Some of your portraits feature famous faces-do you ever get any feedback from the subjects of the paintings?
DONALD: As of yet, no, but would love to have a conversation with Chuck Close about “Chasing that Experience”. I have found images of semi-famous people on Facebook and unbeknownst to them I’ll complete the painting and when posting it to Facebook, I’ll tag that individual in painting. I’ve had some remarkable comments, I do enjoy that.