I had the chance to sit down with our new Art Director, Chris Italiano this week and discuss where he’s been, where he’s heading and how his creative process is still growing along the way.
Describe your path through the creative world.
I’ve always been a sketcher, a monster of sorts on walls — any medium material. I started out as an airbrush illustrator. Went to Maryland Institute. I started airbrushing beer bottles with sweat on them and immediately went into the casino business. I’m a huge Alberto Vargas fan, so pin-ups where a given. The human figure is a wonderful form; it has a lot of shapes to it.
I spent many years doing mural art and then I started designing slot machines and that got me to digital. I left there and went into package design and private label branding. Spent a few years there and just kept growing, moving on — just to keep exploring. I think I will retire a painter, illustrator — I will throw my computer out the window. I still paint and draw and such, the airbrush is always set up.
The biggest thing for me is to regret nothing — because that denies yourself a learning experience. So, understand what you’ve done wrong, but don’t regret it. It’s a good thing.
Was it difficult to go from airbrush artwork and get into digital design? Did you have any formal education?
No I didn’t. A lot of my casino murals (and by the way, I did so much of this stuff that my fingerprint is on almost every casino on this planet) still stand to this day, especially in Atlantic City and a couple of spots in New York and Vegas. But within the company, I was able to get into the whole gaming environment while I was there. Like, what sculpture thing do we put around these slot machines? Where does the silk screening art come from? Well, digital, so it was an evolution there. One of the guys would sit and show me things and I evolved through that and then I just realized I needed more in my career from there. I started doing production work. I went up to the basic junior, mid-level designer at CM Jackson. I left there at a senior level, but again I wanted more.
I have had a lot of jobs in my career. And to me, that’s awesome because it’s all about the experience. The biggest thing for me is to regret nothing — because that denies yourself a learning experience. So, understand what you’ve done wrong, but don’t regret it. It’s a good thing.
Totally, and anybody with that ambition wants to grow. It’s good to see there’s that common thread woven through your experience.
If you like what you do, you’re going to want to do more. Everyone is figuring out what they want to do and how they want to approach it. That’s a good thing. Don’t deny yourself or anyone that opportunity. I have a certain style and a process that is me personally… that a lot of times it comes out professionally, which I know when to apply it and I will always be that person… but I’m not going to shift gears completely, unless I want to experiment with something.
As you’ve grown, how as your process grown with you?
When I started illustration I learned you have to break things down. You have to build things, in a way. You have to sort of foresee what you were initially concepting. And I think that way now, so there’s a lot of mechanical production concepting into my level of creativity and the way I assemble everything. Sometimes I can see the end result instantly and other times I have to think of a process. It’s broad and it has a very fine point at times. It’s developed me. But, as creativity, it’s pushed me, it’s helped me through a lot of things all the way up to all the levels of clients I’ve worked with from working with Donald Trump on the Trump Plaza to actually developing product and managing industrial design teams.
I’m not an industrial designer, but I know how they think and I know how they relate. And in that sense, it was kind of like being an art collector. You collect cool designs and you understand them —you don’t know how to do them, but you have this great respect. You open up different paths for that designer or for yourself when you’re creating product… which is part of the styling and brand and marketing, but that was a good mix with a lot of product, retail, and few ad agencies in between.
A good teacher brings good information and a good way to lay it out, and a good student knows how to interrupt it and pay attention. They should equally inspire each other.
The very traditional painting. Taking the stories I come up with, my illustrations, snapshots of something, and getting them on canvass or some type of flat media. Because that’s how I started and that’s what keeps me going. It’s still a thinking process, it’s not complete application — I’m still thinking. I can zone out and think and do or I can think about exactly what I’m working on. That’s my joy creatively. But away from all of this, it’s to get on a patch of water and go fishing.
You mentioned Alberto Vargas… do you have any creative minds that have inspired you or mentored you?
Overall, Jean Michael Basquiat is a big influence, John Schmidt — an illustrator who had taken me under his wing for a short period. I’m a big [Keith] Haring fan — I’ve worked for the family [ed. note: Chris did work for the Keith Haring Foundation while at Casabella]. I did quite a few design pieces with them. I still have that old school Paul Rand feel. That’s where I started. I’m still a student of traditional design and then computers came to school and I pushed that off and you still had to learn design.
It’s hard for me to say I had a mentor. That’s why I like working with students — or anyone younger, someone aspiring or working, because I never had that mentor. A good teacher brings good information and a good way to lay it out, and a good student knows how to interrupt it and pay attention. They should equally inspire each other.
What advice would you give to a young person starting out?
Learn everything. Have an open mind to it. Negativity is your plus, criticism your plus. Don’t get frustrated. In this field it’s a team effort; it’s not a solo effort. Even a good painter or artist still listens to other people and what they say.
If you like what you do, you’re going to want to do more.
Where do you want your creative work to take you in the next few years?
My goal is creative direction. I view it as working with the team, starting with ideas, nurturing clients and teams. Seeing things not so much from the production end, but from the ideation end.
I also want to keep growing and help the team grow to be the best damn team you could possibly have and aggressively approach other formats.
And eventually I want to get a PhD in color theory. I love color because it affects everything — it’s part of everything. I’ve always been attracted to color and it’s very important. So, that’s my goal. That’s not something I need to have for my job, it’s something I want to do… so I’m taking my time.