James Rizzi, pop artist known for his 3D creations

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James Rizzi.
BY ALBERT AMATEAU  |  James J. Rizzi, a pop artist who was the first living artist ever to be commissioned by the German government to design postage stamps, died suddenly on Dec. 26 in his Lafayette St. studio in Soho. He was 61.

Known for his 3D constructions, consisting of hand-colored prints mounted on top of each other with wires, he also designed the “Happy Rizzi House,” an exuberantly painted office building in Braunschweig, Germany.

He also designed the exterior painting of a Boeing 757, the “Rizzi Bird” for Lufthansa’s charter Condor Airlines in 1996 and designed the painting of three Volkswagen New Beetles in 1999 for the German automaker.

Born to Dominick and Margaret Rizzi in Brooklyn, where he was raised, he graduated from Erasmus Hall High School and went to the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla.

“He started paining as a child,” said his sister, Roberta Rizzi, “He drew all over his bedroom door,” she recalled.

James Rizzi developed his 3D constructions as a fine-art student at the University of Florida, from which he was graduated in 1973. He had his first exhibits that year in the outdoor art shows around Washington Square Park and in Brooklyn Heights. Two years later he painted a 150-foot mural on the wall of a Sullivan St. building, which has since been demolished.

In 1980 he designed the album cover artwork for the Tom Tom Club, a music group, and later created animation for the Tom Tom Club’s music video. He also undertook several design projects in Japan.

He was the official artist of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Ga., and the next year was official artist for the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. The first day of a 1997 retrospective of his work in Brooklyn, was officially declared James Rizzi Day in the borough.

A 2008 retrospective of his work included more than 1,000 of his pieces on display in the Rheingold Hall in Mainz, Germany, and attracted more than 50,000 paid visits.

His marriage to Gabrielle Hamill, a fashion designer, ended in divorce.

In addition to his sister, his mother and an older brother, William, also survive. A memorial was held at Perazzo Funeral Home, 199 Bleecker St., on Tues., Jan. 3.