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Portraits of An Artist

NEW YORK — As far as first impressions go, the Italian artist Francesco Vezzoli makes a somewhat disarming one: a man completely obsessed by female icons from the Sixties and Seventies, and in particular those who figure into Andy Warhol’s...

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NEW YORK — As far as first impressions go, the Italian artist Francesco Vezzoli makes a somewhat disarming one: a man completely obsessed by female icons from the Sixties and Seventies, and in particular those who figure into Andy Warhol’s universe.

The dashing 30-year-old, a graduate of Central St. Martins School of Art in London, has gained critical acclaim for his ghostly embroidered portraits of such bygone divas as Anna Magnani, Veruschka and Edith Piaf and for his campy short films based loosely on scenes he re-creates — and centered on the act of embroidering — from the cinematic masterpieces of Jean Cocteau, Luchino Visconti and Lina Wertmüller, among others. Along the way, he has even convinced such celebrities as Marisa Berenson, Bianca Jagger and Isabella Rossellini to star in these melodramatic re-creations that summon the past and mock it simultaneously.

But Vezzoli’s latest project pushes him even further into territory where only pop culture icons dare tread — in front of Francesco Scavullo’s camera. "I am becoming my own diva," says Vezzoli cheekily over breakfast during a recent trip to the city. The series of "Before and After" shots, exhibited last month at the Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst in Leipzig, Germany, are a tribute to the photographer’s makeup-on/makeup-off shots of such famous faces as Brooke Shields and Cindy Crawford. "For me, Scavullo is the contemporary Horst," explains Vezzoli. "His pictures epitomize the history of glamour. I wanted to make a living performance out of him."

Of course, Scavullo’s ties to Andy Warhol — he was Interview magazine’s roving eye back in the Factory days — made the photographer all the more attractive to Vezzoli as well. But the artist found himself having to do a little convincing when it came to Scavullo. "For me, that is part of the artistic process," he says. "Articulating what I am and how I combine art and cinema."

To enlist Berenson to star in his four-minute tragic pop video, "A Love Trilogy: Self Portrait with Marisa Berenson as Edith Piaf," he even sent flowers. (That film, along with his "Embroidered Trilogy" films, were shown at the New Museum of Contemporary Art last spring.) "They listen, they think I’m crazy and then they say yes," he says. "I’m like a one-man band."
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