To spot a Charles Fazzino artwork online or in a book, simply means not having seen it at all. When one comes face to face with his large three-dimensional pieces, bursting with vibrant colours, cutouts and Swarovski crystals, the usual reaction is of being mesmerised. Seventeen of his works that are on display at Visual Arts Gallery, Delhi, do exactly that, looking like 3D pop-up books from childhood. His depictions of the urban landscapes feature New York City and Singapore, marked with theatres, restaurants, shopping arcades and architectural detail that act as visual guides of these places. Fazzino has a loyal following among private collectors such as Bill Clinton, George Bush, and Julia Roberts as well as galleries and museums in more than 20 countries.
Sharing the gallery with renowned Israeli artist David Gerstein, known for his 3D metal art, for the exhibition “1+1=3” in the Capital, seems apt. For Fazzino, the entire process begins with a sketch after researching a subject. He browsed through Lonely Planet guides on maps, sketches and books on Singapore to create Celebrating The Enchanted Island Of Singapore, a pop-up map that included landmarks such as the Gardens by the Bay, a “No Gum Chewing” sign and the Singapore Sling, the country’s famous cocktail. After colouring the canvas, Fazzino makes a silkscreen colour copy, which is the bottom layer, and then adds two layers that he and his staff meticulously cut out by hand. Fazzino compares this layering technique to making lasagna. “When I had started out, I would take the help of my wife and sister-in-law, who would spend hours at night cutting the pieces from the handmade silkscreen flats. We would spread this out on the kitchen floor and I would glue it to the bottom layer,” says the 59-year-old artist. He now employs 40 freelance art assistants to help create the limited-edition pieces at his office in New Rochelle. A work can take a few months or even a year.
Fazzino was born to a Finnish sculptor, Irene, and an Italian shoe designer, Salvatore, who made ornaments for high-end footwear. After graduating from the School of Visual Arts in New York in 1977, he arrived at his 3D technique by accident in 1981. At an arts and crafts store in Florida, he saw senior citizens in a decoupage class using barber scissors to make cut outs from wrapping paper and greeting cards and pasting these together to create 3D artwork. Fazzino began cutting his old prints from college, majorly cityscapes and gluing them together. He showcased these at Greenvich Village, alongside paintings. “The interesting bit is that nobody bought any of my paintings. They only bought my 3D pieces,” he says.