James Rizzi

James Rizzi

The United States Sports Academy lost a member of its university family when artist James Rizzi died recently.

Rizzi, an Academy Sport Artist of the Year in 1998, died Dec. 26 in his New York studio. He was 61.

“Rizzi will be missed by all, especially in the sport art community that he had an impact on,” said Academy President and CEO Dr. Thomas P. Rosandich. “We wish his family and friends the best during this difficult period.”

Rizzi was known for quintessentially contemporary American art style that catapulted him to fame and adoption into mass media popularity. Rizzi’s bright, cheerful silk screens depict every sort of urban activity from traffic jams on Broadway and boats on the Hudson to baseball in the park. His primitive celebrations of American daily life qualify him as a graphic great-grandson of the phenomenal Primitive artist, Grandma Moses, as well as the playful Surrealist, Paul Klee.

Rizzi earned celebrity status when his pictures were admired at a New York street fair by sculptor Chaim Gross. As Rizzi’s work subsequently appeared on music album covers, stage sets, animated films, posters, cars, and airplane shells, their prices soared. Rizzi’s serigraph titled, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” achieved cult trivia question status by its placement on the wall of Seinfeld’s TV apartment.

In 1996, the International Olympic Museum (IOC) released the Rizzi catalog, “Dreams of Sport.” The book included a forward by the late IOC President, Juan Antonio Samaranch, and text by famous New York trend chronicler, George Plimpton. In 1997, Rizzi was designated the official artist for the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. In 1998, he was selected as the official artist for the FIFA World Cup Soccer, France.

Throughout all the hullaballoo, Rizzi continued refining the complexity of his colorful, cartoon-like designs and his positive presentation of the details of contemporary life. Rizzi’s happy New York boyhood gave his audience an appreciation of the intricacies of urban culture with more enthusiasm and imagination.