In the first issue of OPENING CEREMONY ANNUAL, we featured unpublished images of motorcyclists by iconic illustrator Antonio Lopez. Over twenty years after his untimely death, Lopez is all around this fall, with an exhibition at The Suzanne Geiss Company and a monograph published by Rizzoli. We asked Cary Leitzes of LEITZES&CO to discuss Antonio's work with the head of his estate and old friend, Paul Caranicas.
Cary Leitzes: Paul, many thanks for taking the time to speak with myself and OC about Antonio and his artwork. How and when did you and Antonio first meet? Paul Caranicas: We met in Paris in 1971. I was a student at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts and working nights in a bar/disco called Le Bureau. My boyfriend at the time was working in another bar, Club Sept, and Antonio and Juan met him first. He brought us together. We were all friends for several months, as often happens with expatriates abroad. I didn’t get together with Juan until after I had broken up with my boyfriend, who had to leave the country.
CL: Throughout his career, Antonio worked with creative partner Juan Ramos. How did Antonio and Juan meet and what was the delineation of their working relationship?
PC: They met at the Fashion Institute of Technology in the early 60s; Antonio was in the illustration department and Juan in interior design. Antonio was offered a job at Women’s Wear Daily
before they graduated. They were lovers at the time and had begun working and living together. They worked at WWD
for about six months before moving on to The New York Times
; their personal relationship ended after a few years but by then they had become a creative team.
CL: Born in Puerto Rico, Antonio migrated to New York with his family at the age of seven. How did his multicultural background influence his sense of beauty and style?
PC: Antonio has said in several interviews that his Puerto Rican background and his early family life in the Bronx and Spanish Harlem heavily influenced his sense of style; Juan brought an aesthetic and historic appreciation of art history to the drawings they produced together.
CL: Missoni, Karl Lagerfeld, Kenzo, and YSL were all among the designers who worked with Antonio. How did he come to know such legendary talents?
PC: In 1969, they moved to Paris where they were approached by Karl Lagerfeld who offered them one of his apartments. In Paris, they met other young designers like Kenzo, as well as photographers David Bailey, Tony Kent, and Guy Bourdin. They also eventually met and collaborated with Helmut Newton and Yves St Laurent. In the early 80s, they were contacted by Italian editor Anna Piaggi, who they already knew, to work on the Condé Nast publication Vanity.
CL: From Pat Cleveland to Donna Jordan and Grace Jones, Antonio helped build the careers of the most iconic models of his era. Why did Antonio's illustrations hold such weight in the fashion world?
PC: Because it wasn't just other illustrators who recognized the innate genius of Antonio's drawings, but photographers and designers too. These were not simply illustrations, but inventive tours de force artworks that influenced all creative people who saw them.
CL: Can you tell us the story of how Antonio befriended Jessica Lange?
PC: He was looking for a very American type of beauty for a specific magazine editorial story in Paris. Not content with what he saw in the modeling agencies, Antonio posted notes on the lampposts and doorways around our Odeon apartment. He was looking for the “blond American girl” he had heard was living in our neighborhood. Jessica, who was studying mime with Jean-Louis Barrault, showed up at our door a couple of days later, note in hand.
CL: An artist yourself, you've talked about how much you loved to watch Antonio sketch. What makes Antonio's artwork so engaging?
PC: Well, I like to watch anyone draw; it’s such an engaging and entertaining activity. In Antonio’s case, what I liked best was drawing with him because the models were so good and the conversation so stimulating. He didn’t make small talk about the weather, it was always personal and probing, and eventually quite psychologically revealing. But that’s another story.
CL: Dealing with issues of race and sexuality in his work, Antonio was a pioneer in questioning societal norms. Was he aware of the ways he was pushing the boundaries at the time?
PC: Very aware. Both he and Juan intentionally pushed the boundaries of these issues from the beginning. Being Latino, they realized that the 1950s myopic vision of fashion had impeded women and men of color from participating in a realm that should be inclusive, not prejudicially exclusive. They deliberately challenged the editors at Vogue
with drawings that were informed by societal, racial, and sexual inequality. American magazines would still systematically reject any drawing they deemed too controversial or just too damaging to the bottom line: making money for the client.
CL: With the solo exhibition at The Suzanne Geiss Company and the new Rizzoli monograph, a whole new audience is now discovering Antonio's artwork. What else should we know about the artist and his signature style?
PC: Probably the single most important thing to know, or for some to remember, about Antonio and his style is that, because both he and Juan perished of AIDS, the collective consciousness has not been able to confront his legacy and has instead turned away from it for over twenty years. Only now with the passage of time and the coming of age of a new generation will their work be revealed.
CL: Where would you like to take the legacy of Antonio next?
PC: I think that as far as the œuvre of Antonio (being the collaboration between Antonio Lopez and Juan Ramos) we have just scratched the surface. Besides exploring such important subtext issues as the two mentioned above, there remain many undiscovered approaches to this enterprise, not least of which are the Instamatic, Polaroid, and 35mm photographs, as well as the educational and teaching aspect of their approach. Another huge field ripe for discovery remains Antonio's design in both fashion and jewelry, as well as the graphic designs contained within each advertising campaign or editorial. The Smithsonian Institution website offers a timeline here
. These could make fecund explorations for museum curators or tie in with other contemporaneous artists, events, and movements of the time.
Sketches and photos © Estate of Antonio Lopez & Juan Ramos. Courtesy of The Suzanne Geiss Company, New York.
Antonio's World is on display through October 20th, 2012
THE SUZANNE GEISS COMPANY
76 Grand Street
New York, NY 10013