What is your earliest memory of being exposed to art
“I started skateboarding at a young age. Back then board graphics were something that I admired a great deal. Compositions and colors and placement of graphics on skateboard decks were always so intriguing me. I remember keeping a notebook and trying to draw my favorite skateboards from magazines.”
Your first interaction with anyone in Jay Riggio’s studio is with his adorably affectionate, Boston Terrier, Rosie. She’s the first at the door and welcomes you in then immediately jumps on you.
I seriously considered writing this entire profile on Rosie, however, Jay’s work ended up being a huge distraction.
A self-taught visual artist, the native New Yorker’s collages are haunting and beautiful. Though the titles give you a glimpse into his vision behind the pieces, the captions seem to merely be a guide. You are inevitably drawn into each story, and start peeling off the layers towards your own interpretation.
Jay’s studio space is serene with stacks of magazines, clippings and personal photos of his travels scattered throughout. Once settled in, we spoke to him about his stint inCalifornia and how grateful he is to be home, transitioning into a full-time collagist, and his amazing upcoming road trip across the country in an airstream!
I created my first collage over 15 years ago. My inspiration came from an overwhelming desire to tell a visual story without the classic ability to illustrate.
Everything starts with a single image that I find particularly beautiful or interesting. I slowly build upon that one image and usually end up where I hadn’t expected to be. Often, I’m working on 2 or 3 pieces at one time because I’m easily distracted.
I think some [of my pieces] are better than others. But the truth is, what I’m excited about today, I end up hating tomorrow. I think one of the reasons I continue to make art obsessively is because I’m never fully satisfied with the finished product.
Raymond Pettibon’s work has always spoken to me. His ability to tell complex stories in seemingly simple ways is something I’ve always admired. Fred Stonehouse’s work I also really enjoy.
How do you know when you're finished with a piece
That’s usually that most difficult thing to do for me. I try to follow my instincts and let the piece tell me when it’s finished. It’s not always easy to walk away. I’ve definitely ruined works by giving it way too much. Less can sometimes be more. But then again, sometimes less isn’t enough.
Do you recognize yourself in your work
That’s a great question. I’m not sure I do. One of my close friends recently told me that they see my personality distinctly in my work. But I don’t see it at all. To be completely honest, I’m not sure I’d be able to recognize myself in anything. I think I’m still trying to figure out what’s happening inside my brain on a day-to-day basis. Most days I’m a mystery, even to myself.
My current studio is also where I live. I love it because it’s big enough for me to spread out when I work and it’s off the beaten path from direct distractions. I can hole up in here for days and forget completely about the outside world.
I like to have a lot of space to work. I feel more comfortable in a chaotic work environment. I like when I’m stepping over things and frantically flipping through clippings and books. It adds something to each piece I make, though I’m not sure of what that is exactly.
Do you feel that having an 'assigned' creative space enhances your productivity
I do. When all your work materials are laid out before you, it’s very comfortable to sit down and get to work without distractions. I travel quite a bit and work everyday when I’m away from my studio. Setting up and “breaking down” a makeshift workspace is a very different experience creatively and can take the focus away from the work.
What do you have in your studio that keeps you inspired
I have a black and white print that photographer Dave Schubert gave me years ago. It’s hanging above my desk. It’s of a masked drug mule sitting on the floor, surrounded by twenty thousand dollars in cash. I had the opportunity to speak with Dave once and was inspired by his lifestyle. He had to use the local library just to email me, had no money, and lived this nomadic lifestyle. He didn’t give a shit about anyone’s perception of success. He shot photos, and that’s all he did. Art wasn’t something that he was conscious of doing. He just did it.
I guess, technically I am an emerging artist. It feels odd because I’ve been making art consistently for the past 17 years, but it’s only in this past year that I’ve begun to get my work out there.
I was born and raised here. I’ve lived in New York my whole life, with the exception of living in LA for 4 years. It’s a magical place where something’s always happening. There are so many unique personalities that you encounter everyday. You can be completely anonymous in this city, yet be simultaneously surrounded by everyone and everything.
I think anyone who grew up here has a healthy amount of cynicism. I grew up in the 80’s, at a time when NY was still a place to be feared. It was a place full of those looking to take something from you. My learned distrust of things at an early age led me to question everything. That questioning has led me to search for answers. I haven’t found any answers yet. But in my work, I think I’m still looking for an answer to so many questions.
If you could be an artist in NY during any era, which would you pick
I would say SoHo in the 1970’s because you could live in a giant workspace loft for close to nothing. I missed the boat on anything cheap in New York City.
Any hidden New York gems you're willing to share
There’s a Vegetarian Chinese takeout place in Ridgewood called Coco Lin. It’s incredible.
I like to stay in and work on Sundays. I’ll sleep in. Drink coffee all day and work. I usually reward myself on Sundays with Chinese takeout from Coco Lin for dinner. I love that place.
During a conversation with Joan Mitchell, Yves Michaud is quoted as saying something along the lines of 'A painting is not completed unless it's looked at'. Do you agree
I agree and I don’t. A piece is really done when the artist decides it is. But at the same time, if no one is around to see it, does the art even exist?
I create for me. Everything I make is coming from me and is a product of a brief journey I embark on. When others enjoy it, or take something away from it, I’m delighted. But if there wasn’t an audience for my work, I’d still be doing the exact same thing.
To me the biggest success for a piece is when I’m told by someone that it made them feel something. The fact that somebody had an emotional response to one of my creations is a great feeling.
Right now I’m working on a few commissions.
My work will be on display at Sticks & Stones Gallery in Seattle opening March 13th, 2015.
I’ll also have work in the upcoming show, Into The Wild at ArtNowNY and Joseph Gross Gallery in Chelsea opening April 9th, 2015
Near the end of his career, Rothko, abandoned all attempts at responding to those who inquired after the meaning and purpose behind his paintings. Finally responding that silence is 'so accurate'.
How would you describe the meaning and purpose behind your work?
I’ve never been comfortable translating the meaning of my work. I think Rothko’s decision is admirable. I am much more interested in saying nothing and leaving what I do up to the interpretation of viewers. With the often verbose titles I give each piece, I probably give away way too much anyway.