Besides being a drawing savant, Achilles G. Rizzoli was a playful, inventive, and idiosyncratic wordsmith. His visionary drawings are densely and compulsively layered with a language and vocabulary of his own making. Anagrams, puns, neologisms, and solecisms run wild amidst the voluminous inner monologue that he mistook for the voice of God.
Rizzoli was also an ambitious namer. He created over one hundred names for himself in his drawings, including: Abettor, Agent, Arbitrator, Conformist, Contender, Conveyor, Crusader, Decorator, Delineator, Edifier, Embalmer, Hack, Idolator, Jelly Maker, Journeyman, Kapellmeister, Kibitzer, Kingfisher, Limner, Magnifier, Messenger, Neophyte, Observer, Paraphraser, Promoter, Questioner, Rescuer, Retriever, Romancer, Scrivener, Suppliant, Translator, Witnesser, and Zealot. He also had a staff of imaginary “Delineators,” which he named Angelhart, Bellarosa, Grandocosti, and Maidenburg.
Rizzoli’s charismatic titles for his drawings — “Amte’s Celestial Extravaganza;” “A Bit of Architecture Requested by His Prince the Virgin;” “Expeau of Magnitude, Magnificence and Manifestation;” “Irwin Peter Sicotte, Jr., Symbolically Delineated / The Sayanpeau;” “Mother Symbolically Recaptured / The Kathedral;” “Sonnet Jesus Added;” “Virginia Ann Entwistle Symbolicaly Sketched / Virginia’s Heavenly Castle;” and “Y.T.T.E. The Expositon of Superior Beauty and Permanency” — are further evidence of his unhinged ingenuity.
I find it curious that several critiques of Rizzoli’s work take exception to his writing skills, as if they were reviewing a conventional novel, or perhaps an instruction manual:
Also, like many Outsider artists, Rizzoli ultimately proved inept in communicating his visions to the world. Both his prose and poetry are unreadable. Meaningless phrases strung together apparently verbless go on and on and then go on some more. Even his partisans admit that the soft surfaces of his texts are as impenetrable as if they were chiseled from stone.
~David Bonetti, San Fransisco Examiner
The delirium of styles in Rizzoli’s buildings and the drawings’ precision make them an astonishment. The drawings are blazoned with acronyms, titles, verses and pronouncements so grandiloquent that at times they seem to tip naturally into self-parody.
~Kenneth Baker, San Fransisco Chronicle
But as Kenneth Baker goes on to say, “Yet Rizzoli believed that his visions and inscriptions were dictated by God,” so you can hardly question Rizzoli’s source material, can you? Nor his unbridled and uninhibited enthusiasm for language, and the aesthetics of meticulously (and/or compulsively) rendered text.
A.G. Rizzoli — A Timeline
1896 – Born in Port Reyes, California. His parents, Innocente and Emma, were Swiss Italians who immigrated to the United States in the 1880s.
1915 – A sister got pregnant without benefit of marriage, his father “disappears” with a stolen gun after his wife and children fled to Oakland in disgrace, and an elder brother ran away, never to be heard from again.
191(?) – He attends the Polytechnic College of Engineering in Oakland, taking classes in mechanics, geometry, magnetism, and electrical engineering.
1915 – The Panama Pacific International Exposition took place in San Francisco. He visited the Exposition on several occasions and the next year began lessons in architectural rendering.
191(?) – He was recommended for membership to the San Francisco Architectural Club.
1923-1933 – He wrote short stories and novellas about a group of architects attempting to realize various utopias. He collects 280 rejection notices from various publishers in the process.
1933 – Under the pseudonym Peter Metermaid he self-published a novel entitled The Colonnade.
1933 – He and his mother Emma settle into a small four room house in Bernal Heights, San Francisco (some sources claim he lived in the Mission District).
1935-1944 – He produces a body of architectural portraits that symbolically represent people that he knows as monumental buildings, and creates another series of architectural work entitled Y.T.T.E. or “Yield To Total Elation.” According to The Biography Project, “Y.T.T.E. develops over the years into an island complex with over eighty buildings (‘The Toure of Phallism,’ ‘Palace of Relaxation,’ ‘The Temple of Dreams’) and twenty monumental sculptures of such abstractions as poetry, happiness, and peace. The ‘Acme Sitting Station,’ A.S.S. was the toilet’s designated name. And if you so desired to shake off this mortal coil, there was: ‘The Shaft of Ascension’ where you would be pleasantly and painlessly euthanized.”
1935-1940 – Rizzoli held annual exhibits in the front room of his home, charging ten cents admission, which he called the Achilles Tectonic Exhibit Portfolio (A.T.E.P.). A few neighbors, relatives, and two curious co-workers attend these exhibitions.
1936 – He is hired at an architectural firm, where he was regarded “merely as a competent draftsman.”
1936 – After twenty-one years, the remains of his deceased father are discovered. He refers to his father’s (apparent) suicide in an architectural portrait entitled, “The Dark Horse of the Festival Year.”
1937 – Rizzoli’s mother dies due to complications of a leg amputation from diabetic gangrene. At the funeral, Rizzoli is remembered to have stood by the casket trying to open his mother’s eyes.
1945 – He experiences visions which he considers to be the third testament to the Bible.
1958 – After an unproductive phase, he initiates a new project called the A.C.E. (Amte’s Celestial Extravaganza). The 350 drawings of the A.C.E. series were comprised of architectural renderings, quotations, and musings on falling snow, the election of John F. Kennedy, the celebration of saints, and the metamorphoses of deceased relatives, among other topics.
1977 – While working on a piece from the “Amte’s Celestial Extravaganza” series entitled “Rest in Peace Awhile,” Rizzoli suffered a stroke. Other accounts suggest he had a stroke while on a walk in his neighborhood.
1977 – He is moved out of his home, many of the items in it are auctioned off to support his last years of life in a nursing home.
1981 – Rizzoli dies.
1989 – A woman found several examples of Rizzoli’s work in a dumpster and brought them to art dealer Bonnie Grossman at The Ames Gallery.
1990 – Grossman tracks down one of Rizzoli’s nephews, who had a garage full of his “uncle’s stuff” in storage.
He never married and slept on a cot at the foot of his mother’s bed.
“I live in an unbelievably hermetically sealed spherical inalienable maze of light and sound seeing imagery expand in every direction.” – A.G. Rizzoli
- Epic visions of reclusive Achilles Rizzoli — David Bonetti, San Fransisco Examiner (1998)
- San Francisco Artists, Public and Private / Johnson, Rizzoli shows delve into disparate minds — Kenneth Baker, San Fransisco Chronicle (1998)
- Sleeping on a Cot, Putting Dreams on Paper — Tessa Decarlo, The New York Times (1998)
- Outsiders Come In For Attention — Roberta Smith, The New York Times (1998)
- A.G. Rizzoli — Ronald Jones, Frieze (1998)
- A.G. Rizzoli — Artist page at The Ames Gallery
- Achilles G. Rizzoli — Biographical notes from The Biography Project
- Yield to Total Elation: The Life and Art of Achilles Rizzoli — A short film by New Day Films (2014)