‘What drives and inspires me is a passion for forward-thinking, I pick up on the positive and beautiful vibrations of color, contrast, perspective and spirit that surround our daily lives. I hope that my artwork will trigger inspiration and happiness to create and make the world a better place starting right in our own neighborhoods.’
One of “America’s favorite artists,” RD Riccoboni has found lasting international success as a painter with his portraits, street scenes and architectural paintings. At 61, he shows no sign of stopping a career that has been his passion for decades.
Born in Fresno, California and raised in Redding, Connecticut, Riccoboni’s creative spirit became apparent at the age of 4 when he dipped into his mother’s set of watercolors, which were off limits, and finished the painting she started. Throughout his early years, teachers recognized his talent and encouraged him to pursue art as a career. At 14, he sold his first painting for $57.
After high school, he continued his artist practice though at one point he gave in to the pressure from his family that he needed another career to fall back on. For a time, he worked in a bank, and health care, where his co-workers recognized his talent and pushed him to follow his dream. He was grateful to learn useful skills from human resources and customer support that have helped him manage the business side of a career in art.
‘I’ve always been out. I was never in.’
Riccoboni identifies as a cisgender Gay man with the pronouns he/his.
Riccoboni recalls sitting at dinner at the age of 4 or 5 with his family. When his uncle jokingly asked who he was going to marry when he grew up, Riccoboni blurted out “Paul Bunyan.””My uncle spit out his food across the table. My aunt shrieked ‘I knew it!’ And my father grabbed for a bottle of wine. As my mother came back from the kitchen and asked if she missed something, the room was filled with wide eyes and silence,” said the artist.Life wasn’t easy coming out. Riccoboni was bullied at school and found that several members of the family were uncomfortable with him being openly Gay. Five days after graduating from high school, Riccoboni made his way directly to Los Angeles. As he established his adult life, he found himself traveling back and forth between California and New York. By 1992, he settled back into his California roots.
‘I’m an overnight sensation, 50 years in the making’
Looking back on some of the highlights of his career, Riccoboni believes the lesson learned time and time again is that artists should never take for granted who they are talking to or who is looking at their work.
He recalls meeting Keith Haring on the streets of New York. They discussed their passion for art and Keith encouraged Riccoboni to give back to the community. When he returned to California, he began selling art for AIDS fundraisers, which very few artists were doing at the time. It placed him as an openly Gay artist in the community, which rewarded him with clients who remain friends and patrons to this date.
Aubrey Walter, an art historian and publisher in England came across a postcard of his artworks. After two years considering contacting Riccoboni to include him in a catalog of American Gay artists, he reached out to write a book specifically on Riccoboni. It became an international best-selling publication in 1996.
The same year that the book was published, a volunteer of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) saw his art at the San Diego Gay Rodeo and soon after, trustees were visiting his studio to review his art. They invited him to participate in their art and rental program for emerging artists. Having representation at such a prestigious museum gave him great confidence in himself and his art.
More recently, his painting “We Rise As We Lift Others,” which was a tribute to the ruling on Gay marriage, caught the eye of California’s Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins. The Senator brought the work to Sacramento and it hung in the State Capital before returning to San Diego, where it is hanging in the San Diego History Center in Balboa Park.
‘Social media is great for artists’
Though his first love, Paul Bunyan, is only a folk tale, Riccoboni’s portraits often showcase the lumbersexual. The rugged masculine stereotype is redefined by Riccoboni as he playfully paints series of flower bears, beefcake, fantasy city aerial man maps and mythical mermen.
“Social media is such a great tool for artists. It’s a great way to get your name out there. I’ve met friends, clients and influential people from across the world that was not possible just a few years ago,” said the artist. “You never know where things might go when you put yourself and your art out into the world.”
Last year, a friend saw one of Riccoboni’s portraits on Instagram that looked similar to Brian Sims, the first openly Gay elected official in Pennsylvania history. The friend tagged Sims and soon after, Sims messaged Riccoboni how much he enjoyed the “Flower Bear” series. Riccoboni suggested that Sims would make a great flower bear and after exchanging ideas, Sims became the subject matter for a series of new portraits.
‘One of America’s favorite artists’
Over the years, Riccoboni has supported himself through his own galleries, which showcased his art.
“I always included my LGBT artwork alongside of my other works. I was pleasantly surprised at how accepting people were of my art. It seems that everyone had an uncle or a friend who was part of the community. My work allowed them a safe space to share their lives and sometimes, pick up an artwork to take back to their loved ones.”
Riccoboni recalls that while he had a gallery in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, the tourist groups would come by and the tour guide commented, “You want to make sure that you stop into this gallery to see the works of RD Riccoboni, one of America’s favorite artists.” The tours continued to call him out over the years and the tagline eventually stuck.These days, you can find the works of RD Riccoboni at Studio #18 with the bright yellow door in Spanish Village Art Center in Balboa Park and at The Studio Door in Hillcrest. Additionally, his art can be found online at RDRiccoboni.com and BeaconArtworks.com; on Instagram @rdriccoboni; and on Facebook @rd.riccoboni.
Patric Stillman is a visual artist and gallery owner of The Studio Door. If you are an artist in San Diego’s LGBTQ+ community and would like to be featured in an artist profile, please contact Patric for consideration at email@example.com.