How apt of Savio Mizzi to quote Salvador Dali: “Drawing is the honesty of the art. There is no possibility of cheating. It is either good or bad.” As this week’s cover, “Angelfish Face,” shows—a fish merging with a woman’s hair—Mizzi can draw as well as paint. Viewers who have seen his recent watercolor and graphite work might readily identify him as a painter with a special affinity for fish, but he can do any subject if he feels he can work on it in a distinctive, eclectic way, fusing Realism and Surrealism.
Mizzi likes to combine “a lot of weird stuff,” he refuses to be “confined by simple convention” and prefers a “variety of situations and multitude of techniques.” As an illustrator, he has worked for Dell, Norton, Bantam, Barnes & Noble, Time, Embassy Pictures, Newsday, ABC and the New York City Opera, but he has also done woodcarvings for furniture. Mizzi confesses to having been “obsessed” with late master illustrator and fine artist Bob Peak, who brought innovative design to movie posters (such as those for Star Trek, West Side Story, Rollerball and Superman), magazine covers and commercial products, including Ferrari. Recently Peak’s son wrote to Savio to say that he admired his work.
What brought you from the Island of Gozo in the Mediterranean to the U.S.?
The advertising jobs were in New York. I have family still in Gozo, and I try to visit every couple of years. Although I studied illustration and design for a while in the city, I am really self-taught. I appreciate how difficult it is to teach art, whether fine, industrial, or commercial. I’m skeptical of most of what I see—sorry if I’m offending modern artists—but many self-proclaimed painters can’t draw and many have no sense of composition, color or design. Then there’s that whole scene of name recognition. You look at a picture; who cares who did it, or what it can be sold for? If you have to explain your work, forget it. You paint, you draw for the love of it. I love watercolor for its spontaneity, you can still work on it as it dries.
What is it about the surreal that attracts you?
By seamlessly blurring and occasionally breaking the arbitrary boundaries between dreams and reality, surrealist styles make the idiosyncratic conventional and turn the established and confined traditions on their head, marrying “illogic” to geometry. A lot of people do landscape but I like to work inside the landscape, show a figure, say, morphing into a tree. I love Dali; he did a lot of crazy things but he did them with a phenomenal sense of draftsmanship. He was a superb illustrator/painter.
What’s the difference for you between illustration and painting?
First, I’d like to say something about drawing. I sketch all the time. Drawing is such an important skill. I can’t understand what happened after the Impressionists. Idiots, today, they think they’re modernists and that means they don’t have to know how to draw? Take Rafael or Michelangelo. They were basically illustrators, meaning they depict a story and they do it with superb design, color, composition. I’d say most artists today have no clue, they think of illustration merely as a style. As Norman Rockwell responded to the question, “why ride a horse when you can drive a car?” If you know how to appreciate art and use your tools well, that’s it. Photos? I use them to assist but not to rely on them.
Savio Mizzi shows regularly at The White Room Gallery on Main Street in Bridgehampton (thewhiteroomgallery.com). His work will soon be on view at Salon Xavier in Sag Harbor, and he welcomes visits to his studio, where he is preparing limited edition prints of some of his work. Visit savioartstudio.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.