Our newest series, "Secret Spots," follows inspiring individuals to their favorite hideaways. Whether it's an actual secret spot or somewhere that simply feels private, we're looking to find the hidden treausures of the big city.
This week, the artist James Viscardi took us into the heart of Chinatown to eat ravioli at Forlini's. James is primarily known as a painter, whose pastel still life and nude paintings defy categorization into any exact art-historic label. But he's about to move away from painting for a little bit — James let us in on a secret that he's currently working on a sewing project that will display his more domestic side... but we can't say more.
We sat down with James to discuss pasta fagioli and his work.
Why did you pick this spot?
I picked this spot because it transports me into this world; it feels familiar, being an Italian New Yorker, but also, no one is ever really here, so I can come here with friends and have a really quiet dinner. If we’re out at openings or out in the neighborhood, I’ll just come here with people after; we can just eat, and sit, and drink.
What is the mood that you’re in when you’re here?
It’s something akin to the comfort of grandma’s house, but also, it’s kind of an old-world New York that’s really hard to come by. You would never think that you’d find it in the middle of Chinatown. The paintings are amazing. The decor is heinous, and I love it.
How did you discover it?
My friend had a birthday here, and a couple of other friends have had birthdays here, so over the years we’ve been coming here with different groups of people. We always know there will be room for thirty-plus people.
Favorite thing on the menu?
I like the pasta fagioli. It’s hard to find good pasta fagioli.
Do you have a favorite memory from this spot?
Just good nights with good friends.
Artists you’re inspired by?
I used to be primarily focused on painting, and one of my favorites was David Hockney. But now since I’ve been sewing and doing this top-secret project, I’m looking a lot at Claes Oldenburg. I definitely went through my De Chirico phase. But at this point I feel like my paintings have become their own thing, and I’m trying to get away from influence of the past, and just forge my own world.
How are painting and sewing different for you?
Painting is really freeing, but it’s also really entrapping in that you’re always playing with history; you can’t paint a picture without thinking of painting history. With the amount of painters out there, there’s so much frenetic energy, you’re always thinking, 'There’s a million other painters.' I fell into sewing because I love the idea of creating something that is a final product; because, in painting, there’s never an end, it’s always open-ended. You never know when you’re done. Sewing has been amazing because with that last stitch it feels like its own object in the world.
I feel like your painting style displays a cartoonish approach cubism, using pastel colors and thick lines, do you agree?
For sure. All of that style came out of being really obsessed with Dick Tracy and a lot of cartoons and television, and I wanted my paintings to have that kind of quick outline feeling of a cartoon, because there's a certain humor and lightness in a cartoon drawing that I really wanted my paintings to have, with an art-historical cubist emphasis.
A lot of your work portrays imagery of the everyday, almost suburban imagery. As a born and raised New Yorker, how did these kitsch Americana objects became the subject of choice for you?
Well my mom is an all-American German-Irish woman. My mom’s side of the family is super American; You know, she made meatloaf for dinner. My dad’s family is Italian. I grew up with two very distinct lives — with a very, very American, suburban-type life, and a very New York Italian life. It can make things really interesting.