Achilles G. Rizzoli
American, 20th century.
Born 1896, Marin County California; died 1981, San Francisco, California.
Achilles Rizzoli reinvented the meta-language of architecture—especially the modes of plan and elevation—to create portraits, paradoxically chaste erotica, a world expo, and anunfinished, visionary city. Exquisite and densely coded, each drawing presents layered mysteries to the viewer willing to enter into his visionary, utiopian world.
Born in 1896 in Marin County, California, Rizzoli moved to Oakland in 1912 to study mechanics and engineering for several years. His family followed soon after. During this time he was immersed in the contemporary flowering of utopian thinking in the field of architecture. The several visits he paid to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915 also his sensibility and visionary inquiry. His father disappeared in 1915, and Rizzoli moved again in 1933, establishing a household with his mother, for whom he would care for until her death.
In 1935, after an unsuccessful attempt at fiction writing, Rizzoli began to develop a unique mode of transcribing the people and experiences of his daily life into a transcendent world by rendering buildings in a generally Beaux-Arts idiom, often complicated by details culled from earlier styles. Needless to say, his family, friends, and fellow workers at the architectural firm where he worked did not show understanding or encouragement. The ones who did found themselves immortalized in the form of a building elevation, showered with honor and praise.
Rizzoli rendered his elevations with crisp lines and attention to minute detail, and embellished them with coded phrases and initials to identify specific people. He shaped his oeuvre through an extensively coded classification system labeled by neologisms and acronyms. He designated his early drawings under the acronym S.Y.M.P.A: The S standing for his Symbolization mode of portraiture, the Y for his imaginary world exposition, YTTE (Yield to Total Elation), M for miscellaneous images and poems, P for piafore, an invented name for girls’ clothes, and A for a process he referred to as amplification through an exhibit portfiolio.
The discovery in 1937 of Rizzoli’s father’s remains--along with evidence pointing to suicide—and the death of his mother only a few months made a great impact, resulted in the artist’s increased focus in his work, at the expense of care for himself and his house. He would subsequently return to reimagine his Y.T.T.E., a recursive creative move that yielded ever more elaborate designs for his utopian expo.
From the mid-1940s onward, he devoted his efforts to rendering fully formed architectural visions or “heavenly inheritances” in what he called “sunburts,” hybrid works comprised of architectural images and poetry. He dedicated these to his muse, a celestial virgin named A.M.T.E. or Architecture Made to Entertain, calling them A.C.E. (A.M.T.E.’s Celestial Extravaganza). These would occupy his efforts until he experienced a stroke in 1977, four years before his passing.
The drawings of A.G. Rizzoli are wonderful to consider, even briefly. Yet a more considered appreciation of his genius demands our willingness to engage a new literacy, an experience that can be at once thrilling and exhausting. Outsiders like Rizzoli reveal dazzling glimpses into our human capacity for visionary thinking and expression to those who have eyes to see it.
- Jenifer P. Borum
2018, Vestiges & Verse: Notes from the Newfangled Epic, American Folk Art Museum, New York, NY
2013, The Encyclopedic Palace (Il Palazzo Enciclopedico), 55th Venice Biennale, Venice
2013, The Alternative Guide to the Universe, Hayward Gallery, London
2013, Farfetched: Mad Science, Fringe Architecture and Visionary Engineering, Gregg Museum of Art & Design, Raleigh (North Carolina)
1998, American Folk Art Museum, New York City
Selected Solo Exhibitions
1999, A.G. Rizzoli, American Folk Art Museum,New York City
1997, A.G. Rizzoli: Architect of Magnificent Visions, San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego
American Folk Art Museum, New York
Collection abcd, Paris
Collection de l'Art Brut, Lausanne
Rugoff, Ralph, The Alternative Guide to the Universe, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Publishing, London, 2013.
Hernandez, Jo F, Achilles G. Rizzoli, John Beardsley, and Roger Cardinal, A.G. Rizzoli: Architect of Magnificent Visions. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc, 1997.
Maclaren, Sarah, L’architettura magnifica di Achilles G. Rizzoli, Agalama, No. 14, 1997.
MacGregor, John, "A.G. Rizzoli, The Architecture of Hallucination," Raw Vision, no. 6, 1992.
Dubuffet, Jean, L'Art brut préféré aux arts culturels, Paris, 1949.
Ferrero, Pat, Yield to Total Elation: The Life and Art of Achilles Rizzoli, DVD.