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Interview: New York artist Charles Fazzino talks about his 3D paintings for SG50

By: Arman Shah Rawi

Charles Fazzino – celebrated around the world as the Master of 3D pop art – is renowned for his whimsical, three-dimensional renderings of iconic cities like Paris, London and New York (NY) where he lives. This year, he adds Singapore to his repertoire and commemorates her golden jubilee with his first solo exhibition in the Lion City. Titled “The Colors of Singapore: A 3-Dimensional Art’, it’s held at Bruno Gallery until 14 June 2015. The American artist shares more in this interview.

Charles filling in his pen-and-ink drawing with colour at the studio 

Welcome to Singapore! How are you liking your first trip to the city?
So far it’s been great! I landed in Singapore earlier this week and managed to squeeze in time for sightseeing over these last couple of days. I went to the Botanical Gardens, had drinks at Raffles Hotel, and drove around to see some of the city’s iconic buildings. I even went on the Singapore Sling – that was fun after a long flight! (Laughs)

For those who are not yet familiar with your name, can you explain how you got started in the arts?
I come from a very artistic family. My father was a shoe designer back in the 60s and 70s, and my mother was – and still is – an artist. As a kid, I would always watch my father sketch different shoe designs, and I’d also accompany my mother to the park where she sold her artwork at outdoor art shows every weekend. Being surrounded by people who are constantly creating rubs off on you, and I think it has influenced my daughter too. I’m always drawing, and now she’s an artist too – it’s kind of generational.


4,000 Swarovski crystals were used for his 3D masterpiece 

You’re known around the world as the Master of 3D pop art. Why did you decide to specialise in 3D paintings? 
I had a professor at the School of Visual Arts in NY who said, “If you’re going to do something, do something different.” His words resonated with me, and I made up my mind then to do something that’ll get me noticed.

I first discovered the idea at 15 when I walked into an arts supply store in Florida. Retirees were having a class on decoupage, which is the art of cutting wrapping paper and greeting cards to decorate furniture. They had pictures of Raggedy Ann and Andy cut out, stacked up in four or five layers with glue in between, and framed on the wall. I just thought it was really cool. So, I went back to NY in 1981 and sold my first 20 3D paintings in plexiglass boxes. I started off with $50, and by the end of the day, I’d sold them for $200 each. I remember going home and saying to my girlfriend at the time, “Boy, I’m on to something here!”

“The Colours of Singapore: A 3-Dimensional Artwork” is your first solo exhibition in Singapore. How did it come about?
Bruno Gallery has been carrying my work for a couple of years now, and I had some collectors in Singapore asking why I had nothing on the city. I’ve always wanted to paint Singapore but I never really had a reason to. I was told one day that Singapore will be celebrating her 50th birthday in 2015, and the gallery suggested I do a commemorative piece.


The "Day" version of "Celebrating the Enchanted Island of Singapore" features the Singapore flag being flown across the clear blue sky by military helicopters 

The highlight of the exhibition is “Celebrating the Enchanted Island of Singapore”, which features some of the city’s most iconic landmarks like Marina Bay Sands and the Merlion. How much research was done to conceptualise this special piece?
It was a big task because I had never been to Singapore before and didn’t know the city that well, but I think it’s managed to look so fabulous because of the input of so many people, from art collectors to the people working here at the gallery.

For instance, a client suggested I included the Singapore flag being carried by airplanes flying across the sky in the day piece. I also made references to the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore Airlines, the Singapore Girl and even the ban on chewing gum. Based on the reactions of people at the opening, I realised that the piece looks like it was painted from the perspective of someone who had an intimate understanding of Singapore.


Describe the process of creating this artwork. Were there any hurdles to overcome?
This is a very big piece, and figuring out how much information I can get onto the canvas was a huge task. The whole project started off as a pencil sketch. It then became a pen-and-ink drawing that I started filling with colour before sending it for printing. Back at the studio, I cut the individual parts by hand and layered them on top of each other, like lasagna, to create the illusion of it being 3D. The process ends with me hand-painting the acrylic glitters and embellishing the piece with Swarovski crystals. I can’t be too sure, but I think there are 4,000 stones on this piece.


Fireworks erupt in the dark skies in the "Night" version of "Celebrating the Enchanted Island of Singapore" 

How do you want first-time viewers in Singapore to perceive your artwork?
You don’t need an art education from college to get my artwork; it’s easy to understand and people are simply meant to feel good when they look at it. Still, a lot of effort and design went into each piece, and I hope that they will be remembered as fine art pieces, even though they’re whimsical and not “serious”.