April 23, 2005

A.G. Rizzoli

In 1990, a young woman brought some peculiar architectural drawings she had found several years earlier to San Francisco gallery-owner and collector Bonnie Grossman with a view to selling them. The drawings were highly elaborate, but the buildings they depicted were imaginary. They were signed, but the artist’s name was altogether unknown. Grossman was fascinated: she bought the drawings, and, after doing a little detective-work, tracked down a much larger collection of works by the same artist, one A.G. Rizzoli, which she found in his great-nephew’s garage.

Detail of 'Mother Symbolically Represented/The Kathedral,' ink drawing by A.G. Rizzoli, 1935.

Achilles G. Rizzoli (1896-1981) was the fourth of five children born into a poor, immigrant family. His parents were recent arrivals to California from Ticino, the Italian-speaking part of southern Switzerland. Between 1912 and 1915 Rizzoli studied engineering at a polytechnic college in Oakland, where he formed a particular interest in architecture. These were difficult years for the Rizzoli family: one of his (unmarried) sisters became pregnant, left the family home, was married, but then divorced; his oldest brother left the family home permanently, never to be seen again, and, in the Spring of 1915, his father disappeared, having stolen a gun from his employer.

Detail of 'Shirley Jean Bersie Symbolically Sketched/Shirley's Temple,' ink drawing by A.G. Rizzoli, 1939.

Achilles was an eccentric. In the early ’20s he filed at least two lawsuits on flimsy pretexts concerning perceived injustices he felt had been done to his family. He worked at a variety of low-paying jobs. From about 1927, he began composing short stories and novellas about a group of utopian architects: these literary endeavours culminated in a novel entitled The Colonnade, which Rizzoli had published at his own expense in 1933, under the pseudonym ‘Peter Metermaid.’ Alas, Rizzoli’s prose, we read, was ‘verbose, stiff and boring,’ and his book found no readers. By 1933, Rizzoli was living alone with his mother: he never married, and was a lifelong celibate.

Detail of 'The Primalglimse at Forty,' ink drawing by A.G. Rizzoli, 1938.

It was only in 1935 that Rizzoli began illustrating his utopian visions. Over the next decade he ‘produced a body of spectacular architectural renderings, in grand Beaux-Arts style.’ These were done in coloured ink on rag paper, and followed an inscrutably elaborate plan for a notional locale Rizzoli termed YTTE, an acronym for the phrase ‘Yield To Total Elation.’ In many cases, the drawings were also intended as ‘symbolic portrayals’ of family-members, neighbours, or acqauintances. In 1936, Rizzoli began work as a draughtsman at the offices of a local firm of architects. Later that year came news that his father’s remains had been found at an isolated spot in Marin County: an apparent suicide. Also in 1936, his beloved mother’s health began to deteriorate— she died the following year.

Detail of 'Gerry George Gould Holt/The 'Cadevtr.',' ink drawing by A.G. Rizzoli, 1940.

Rizzoli stayed on in the house he had shared with his mother, where he lived out an austere, friendless life. On a number of occasions in the late ’30s he staged home-made exhibitions of his work, which only a few of his neighbours and colleagues ever came to see. After 1944, Rizzoli began work on a new project, little of which, alas, is known to have survived: ‘an illustrated prose narrative that included sketches for new architectural transfigurations…’ From around this time, he reported experiencing increasing numbers of mystical-religious visions: ‘pageantry in which action and drama and melodies and imagery…are…very much of the substance of air…[and] well nigh as essential.’

Detail of 'Virginia Tamke Symbolically Represented/The Tower of the Hour',' ink drawing by A.G. Rizzoli, 1935.

Rizzoli’s final artistic project commenced in 1958: an on-going record of his visions which combined verse, prose and architectural sketches. This work eventually filled over three hundred 24" x 36" vellum sheets: Rizzoli entitled it the A.C.E., which stood for AMTE’s Celestial Extravaganza. AMTE, in turn, stood for ‘Architecture Made To Entertain,’ which, in Rizzoli’s worldview, was both an underlying architectural principle, and its sacred, virginal, female personification. Rizzoli continued work on the A.C.E. until he suffered a debilitating stroke in 1977.

Detail of 'The Y.T.T.E Plot Plan - Fourth Preliminary Study,' ink drawing by A.G. Rizzoli, 1938.

Click on the details above to see the images in full: the scans are not the best—a little blurred here and there. The images, and the information I have quoted and paraphrased above are all taken from a marvellous book A.G. Rizzoli: Architect of Magnificent Visions, published by Abrams in 1997, in association with the San Diego Museum of Art. Here are a few more related links.

Posted by misteraitch at April 23, 2005 08:57 AM

That's just fantastic! I love coming here every couple of weeks, you make my world a bigger place. Thank you!

Posted by: This Is Not A Love Story on April 23, 2005 02:03 PM

Lovely images, only spoilt by the misty quality of the scans (clearly a problem that everyone who has loaded his pictures to the web has had)

Posted by: paulm on April 23, 2005 05:20 PM

I love visiting here; I learn something fascinating each time.

Posted by: Kate on April 25, 2005 06:46 AM

fascinating! i came via zadok the roman and am so glad i did! thanks for posting this.

Posted by: romy on May 2, 2005 05:36 AM

Some of Rizzoli's works compare to my Father's, Lester C. Haas, FAIA. I am currently compiling a "Lester Haas Collection" and plan to show and reproduce Please let me know if you are interested.

Posted by: Cathey on May 3, 2005 02:00 AM

Funny, I had just read your post, and then today I saw this in the NY Times.

You are prescient.

Posted by: francis s. on May 6, 2005 11:26 AM

Hello. This is my first visit and this post is as interesting and stimulating as the rest of what I've read from your site; let's just say I intended to have a quick look but that was a few hours ago. Congratulations!

Posted by: Alberto on May 6, 2005 07:59 PM

My father's artwork website is up and running, www.lesterhaas.com - there remain about 100 pieces not posted yet but I'm working as fast as I can. Thank you for putting it out there. I am producing Limited Edition Giclee Reproductions.

Posted by: Cathey on June 27, 2005 09:05 PM
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