One of the best things about getting “older” in the biz is watching your friends and colleagues grow and change. Jay Riggio and I began working in the magazine world together a decade ago and over the years we’ve traded jobs and put each other on as contributors for all sorts of different publications. Recently though, Riggio has been devoting more time to his art career as a collagist and is already starting to make some waves in the Instagram space with his hauntingly surrealistic imagery. I caught up with Jay in the midst of his move back to NYC where he plans on being a full time artist.
How does one manage to go from a career editorial guy to a collage artist over night?
It’s funny because I’ve been making collages longer than I’ve been writing for a living. It’s been over 15 years now that I’ve been cutting and pasting images. I’ve always done it in between writing projects and sort of kept them to myself. But the last couple of years collaging has fully consumed me. I’ve become obsessed with the process. Writing and the medium of collage seem so different on the surface, but I see them as being very similar. One is piecing together words to create imagery in the mind, the other is piecing together imagery for ones mind to interpret. Sometimes I feel like sitting at a desk and cutting paper is no different than pounding away at a keyboard.
Why this medium in particular? How did you start collaging?
I’ve always felt the need to tell stories and express a series of feelings through the art of storytelling. It’s what I’ve tried to do through writing over the years and in college when I studied filmmaking. When I started I felt an urgency to express my thoughts visually, but lacked the basic skills to draw or paint well. It happened out of necessity. I found that I could tell the stories I wanted to tell by combining existing elements. It’s exciting as hell because the possibilities are endless.
How do you manage to make the seams between images seem so smooth and well “seamless”? Is there a special technique you’ve adopted or learned as you’ve progressed with it?
I use an Xacto knife and small sewing scissors to get precise cuts. The blades dull out fast, so I switch them out regularly to get clean cuts in small areas. It’s a lot of patience and taking things slowly. It’s funny. I never went to art school, so when I first started I was using a box cutter to cut paper. Everything I cut looked like dog shit. A buddy of mine turned me onto the world of real art materials. My way of doing things is fairly simple but you learn tricks along the way. You learn how to match colors, paper thickness and lighting... how to glue down tiny pieces. You never really know how a piece will turn out until you glue it down. I’ve spent days on pieces and completely ruined them in the gluing process. Also, visually there are plenty of limitations when you’re using only what’s available to you, but that’s what excites me about the medium. Anything is possible.
Lots of what you produce has a surrealistic element to it. Is that intentional or just a normal bi-product of stitching seemingly unrelated images together?
I think it’s often intentional. And sometimes, not so much. Much of my intention is to create work that’s allegorical in nature, which is intentionally drawing on surrealism. But I’ve always been fascinated by the visual perspective of things and the way objects relate to each other within a frame. And when I take that approach, those surrealistic elements happen by chance.
How do you find your images? Do you go magazine digging? Do you have specific titles you like to pull from?
I usually go to Salvation Army’s and Goodwill. Swap meets and yard sales almost always have good stuff. Anything from the 60’s through the 80’s is great. I love old Playboy’s and Time Life books. Blown out color photography is my favorite to use.
You also adopt pretty unusual but surrealistically appropriate names for your work. How do those names come to you?
Throughout the day, I’ll think of snippets of words or ways to describe something I’m thinking. It’s usually a line or two that could exist in the middle of a poem somewhere. Once I have a title mulling around in my brain, I piece together images that best interpret the words.
Tell me about your departure from working in the corporate world to moving back to NYC to pursue art?
I’ve been in California for three and half years now. It’s been an awesome and crazy experience. Cali is great, but I’m heading back to NY to be closer to friends and my folks. I miss my friends and the craziness of New York living. As far as leaving the corporate world—I guess you can say that I’ve always gone where the work is. And by doing that I never truly felt in control of my own destiny, my own freedom. I’ve always compromised myself for a job and it never felt quite right. I’ve reached a point where I want to pursue what makes me happy and not the comfort of a 9 to 5 gig. I’ll most likely be living off an EBT card for a long time. But the way I see it, I’ll be happy along the way.