Artist Interview: Jay Riggio

June 23 2014

The artist generally has total control over brushstrokes, line and even the photographic manipulation of light. But a collage is the product of the skilful agglomeration of disparate, found elements, which makes the form both a constant hunt and a delicate process of editing.

With titles like “Roaming Charges Inside the Cathedral” and “What You Saw the Night You Had Your Face Kicked In,” Jay Riggio’s emotive photomontage pieces had us all abuzz. His masterfully remixed ephemera, quite a bit of it made on the flimsy tabletop of an old Airstream across the southwest, draws on writing and cinematography to evoke desire, displacement and nostalgia. We caught up with him in New York to talk process and inspiration.

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Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background. Where are you from?

I’m Jay Anthony Riggio, from New York. Born and raised on Long Island. I spent most of my early life riding a skateboard with my friends. I took an interest in writing and film in my teenage years and studied them both in college. It was in college that I got heavily into making handmade collages. After I graduated college I moved to Brooklyn and lived there for about 12 years. I worked as a journalist to support myself through the years but still made art all along in my free time. I moved to Los Angeles for 3 and half years and just recently moved back in Brooklyn. I truly couldn’t be happier to be home, surrounded by friends and family and making art full-time.

What inspires your work?

Music, film and writing have always inspired everything I do creatively. It could be a simple notion that pops into my head that inspires me or a fragment of words I overhear someone speak while walking my dog. A lot has to do with my subconscious, my dreams and the confusion I’ve experienced in the throes of seizures. I’m an epileptic. More often than not, I’m inspired by my own sentimentality and urge to see pretty things amongst the bad stuff out there.

What is your favorite medium and why?

I’ve painted in the past and experimented with different mediums over the years. But at the moment, I’m consumed by cut and pasted collage. I’m in love with the medium. Hand cutting original materials and pairing images to create an entirely unique perspective excites me. I love the endless possibilities and also the crippling limitations of the medium. You have to search out perspective and image depth and are relegated to pieces that can’t be reproduced. When you use original materials, each piece of paper is vulnerable. It can be destroyed in a heartbeat and never see the light of day again. In that way, each collage becomes extra special to me. There are so many possibilities and endless images to utilize that when I sit down to work on something, I’m always taken on a strange journey that I rarely have control over.

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When did you start doing collage? Where do you source materials?

I started working with cutting up paper in my late teens. It’s an immediate way to tell a story, much like writing is. I like that there’s no power button to turn on, no collaborating with others, no arduous preparation beforehand. It’s just you, a stack of books, a cutting knife and a can of spray glue.

I stockpile tons of magazines and books that I find at thrift stores and neighborhood stoop sales. Anything that’s cheap and has images that look halfway interesting to work with end up coming home with me.

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Can you tell us about your process? 

I’ll spend hours flipping through books and removing things that catch my eye. I usually flip through the books normally, and then flip through them upside down for a different perspective. It might sound strange, but before I begin on a piece I’ll have a phrase or simple pairing of words in place that will eventually become the title for a piece. These words shape what each collage will turn into. Words are so powerful and I use the feeling of the words to visually tell a story in my mind. I want to evoke a feeling with each piece, whether it be happiness, sadness, wonder or disgust.

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Your collections are based around the road, women, and love. Any reason to this? is that the ultimate meaning of life?

I spent a month on the road with my girlfriend, traveling in an Airstream with our dogs. The collages in the “road” series were made with materials found on the road, at a small table in the trailer while we made our way through California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. It was an incredible and inspiring journey. A lot of what I make comes about directly or indirectly from my experience with women and love. Meaning of life? Hmmmm. I’m not positive what it is, but it might have something to do with being as free as you can.

Do the collages themselves tell a story? When you start with one, are you trying to get a message across or is it driven by aesthetic?

I try to tell a story with every collage I make. My goal is to create a single frame in time that can be linked to an imaginary world that’s bigger. The titles of each piece I think helps better illustrate each story. To me, the titles are just as important to me as the imagery itself.

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What are you working on now? Any upcoming exhibitions or projects you can tell us about?

I’m super excited about some upcoming projects. I have collaboration in the works with a fashion designer that I can’t talk about just yet. Opening on August 16th, I’m part of a two-person show at Kirk Hopper Fine Art in Dallas, Texas. I’ll be part of a group show that’s also in August with the Bushwick Collage Collective at Armature Art Space in Brooklyn. I’ll also be doing an online show and exclusive print release with Vuhneeshun Magazine. And then in December I’ll be part of a three-person show at Space Gallery in Pomona. That’s about it for now. Hopefully they’ll be more to come soon.

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