Skip To Main Content
Art Inspiration: James Rizzi

James Rizzi, a lifelong New Yorker, was known for his urban primitive style. He called himself a child of the cartoon era. He felt his best pieces came when “I just sit and draw without any set ideas and it just comes out – if you are in the right creative mood, things seem to happen naturally”. Rizzi was a pop artist best known for his playful, colorful and cartoon-like three dimensional sculptures. He had a large international following, especially in Germany. He created “The Happiest House in the World” in Brunswick, Germany and also was the first living artist to design stamps for the German government.

He grew up in a melting pot neighborhood in Brooklyn and attended a local private Catholic school there. Later, he attended the University of Florida where he initially pursued art as a subsidiary subject before taking it as his major. He fulfilled a course requirement by producing work in 3D media by making a silkscreen print of a black marker drawing. He printed it twice, hand-colored it and cut out portions with nail scissors from a second sheet and attached the cuttings with adhesive foam. He mounted parts of one print on top of the other, using wire to add depth.

The resulting reliefs combined graphic art, painting and sculpture. He drew from memory rather than on site.  After walking the city for inspiration, he would go home and set down his interpretation of what he saw. He was known to carry a bag with his art supplies at all times. In his early years as an artist, he sold his work in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and was known as a street artist. He said he liked people and he liked to talk so selling on the street suited him.

He was also known for creating the album cover artwork for the first album of Tom Tom Club. Tom Tom Club is an American new wave band founded in 1981 by husband-and-wife team Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz, both also known for being members of Talking Heads. In the sitcom, Seinfeld, Rizzi’s Take Me Out to the Ballgame hangs in Seinfeld’s apartment hallway.

 At the age of 61, James Rizzi passed away peacefully in his sleep in his New York studio, the night after Christmas, 2011. Rizzi’s art has brought great joy to so many people and will continue.

Contributor: Elizabeth Hunt Blanc, JDM museum files, Ask Art: James Rizzi Bio,,