Paolo Troilo & Julio Espada: A Tale of Two Artists

Joy Venturini Bianchi and Paolo Troilo in front of a portrait he painted of her
click images for full size views

Paolo Troilo, the 45 year old Italian artist who uses his hands instead of paintbrushes to create enormous black and white self-portraits, has single handedly elevated finger painting from something traditionally viewed as child’s play, to the heights of sophisticated artistic self-expression. His latest solo exhibition, “8 In the Name of the Fathers” which opened with a cocktail reception last evening, is on view through September 8th at the Italian Consulate on Park Avenue and 69th street. But don’t think you might have a chance to purchase one of the paintings. The Gucci family has reportedly acquired all the pieces for their private art collection.

Paolo Troilo artwork

Curated by Luca Beatrice, the large paintings are effectively displayed on the white walls of the Consulate’s elegant and grand main room on the second floor, boasting high ceilings and tall windows, which allow in the natural light. The exhibition is so named as it comprised of 8 canvases that make up a single artwork. It is a tribute to his father and all fathers and an homage to their complicated father-son relationships. Paolo used the number eight as it symbolizes infinity.

Loss by Paolo Troilo

The only canvas with a black, rather than a white background, is the one he calls, “Loss” and it’s also the only one where you can clearly see the artist’s face. Paolo, a father of two, told me his father passed away in 1995. Like all his work, this series is emotionally tugging, powerful, unapologetically erotic, yet classic and brings to mind late-Renaissance mannerist paintings (he has been compared to Michelangelo).

Paolo Troilo at the reception for his art installation

To say Paolo has a fascinating back story is an understatement. Craving more freedom, creativity, and personal fulfilment, he left behind a successful and award-winning 15 year career in advertising (in 1997 he was named Senior Art Director of Saatchi & Saatchi in Milan) in order to pursue his ongoing passion for painting. He has been painting with his hands, literally dipping them in jars of black and white acrylic paint, since the precocious age of 6. “My 15 years in advertising kept the artist within quiet, but also provided the education — advertising was my art school”.

Paolo Troilo paints his self portraits by hand

As for why he sticks to black and white: “I use black and white because I don’t want to give you the colors that advertising uses, the ones I learned to manipulate commercially, to catch you. The white and black canvas is like writing a book and giving you the possibility to take the next step on your own — imagining the colors, and giving the picture a meaning. I prefer the viewer discovers their own experience within the work”.

His work had been shown at major galleries in Europe and he was even included in the 2012 Venice Biennale but he did not make his American debut until March 2013 at Coup d’Etat, an 8,500 square foot antiques showroom in San Francisco’s design district. That is when he first met Joy Venturini Bianchi, and he considers this familiar face on the social circuit and a bona fide fashion icon in her hometown (known for her bold, entrance making style) to be his muse.

Italian Consul General Francesco Genuardi, Federica Marchioni,
Paolo Troilo and Joy Venturini Bianchi

He has painted four portraits of her (two in black and white, one in black and brown,  and one in color, because “that is how he saw her”.) She made the trip from San Francisco to be there last evening, along with an eclectic group that included Francesco Genuardi, the Consul General of Italy, Antonio De Carlo, (CEO and Founder of ADC, World of Art L.L.C. who was instrumental in bringing the exhibition to light), his wife Federica Marchionni who had been Chief of Brand Business at Ferrari, North American president of Dolce & Gabbana and CEO of Land’s End (a post that ended this past September).


Hat designer Kokin was there as well, and he had a rather busy month of May thanks to all the chapeaux he sold to women going to the Frederick Law Olmsted Awards Luncheon in Central Park and the Kentucky Derby, where he set up a successful pop up shop.

Julio Espada with Janice Dickinson in a 1970’s Richard Avedon ad

But while Troilo works almost entirely in black and white, another artist, Julio Espada, the 62 year old Puerto Rican born artist and designer pretty much sees the world in living color. Last Wednesday there was a reception to fete the opening of his first ever art installation, “Totem” which is on view through June 17th at the Hostler Burrows galleries (35 &51 east 10th street, 212 343 0471).  It’s quite a departure for the well- respected team of Kim Hostler and Juliet Burrows, as they don’t usually feature the work of a visual artist.

Julio Espada opening reception

It was a packed house with the worlds of fashion, beauty, art, advertising, design, and Hollywood colliding. Fashion notables Paul Cavaco, Julie Britt, Nina and Laura Santisi, Jackie Rogers, Jill Stewart mixed alongside celebrity hairstylist Maury Hobson, the young and talented fashion photographer Justice Apple, legendary art director Sam Shahid, illustrator extraordinaire Ferdinand van Alphen, gallerist Lucien Terras, American film producer Rachael Horovitz.

Julio Espada Totems

The 60 computer generated drawings on view are bi products of a journal Julio kept which recorded his thoughts following twice a day meditations over the past 7 years. Each drawing is a separate thought and he has arranged the smaller drawings (11 X 17 inches) in the shape of a totem, thus the name, “Totem”. As he said, “Their purpose is keeping an ongoing visual interpretation/record of the personal experiences and relationship to this practice. They function as reminders of ideals, intuitions, dreams, failures, myth, hopes, beauty, chaos, quiet, loss, eternity, light, and truth.” They range in price from $1750 for those that are 11 X 17 inches, to $10,000 for one that measures 46X 94 inches. Several have already been sold.

This talented artist is always sketching and drawing and while he is trained in all traditional mediums (oil, charcoal, etc.) his latest effort (modular digital art works) is very much in keeping with the digital age. It’s also enabled him to literally “carry his studio in his pocket” because the only other thing he needs to create his works of art, is a first rate printer. He also noted that being on Instagram, has helped fuel much interest in the exhibition.

Talk about fascinating back stories. I first met Julio in New York in the late 1970’s when he started his eponymous fashion line. I remember his small jewel of a store on the corner of Madison Avenue and 72nd street where he held many of his shows (it is where the Ralph Lauren flagship now stands). His advertising campaign was shot by Richard Avedon using four models: Iman, Apollonia, Janice Dickinson, and Patti Hansen, the latter also appeared on the cover of American Vogue in 1978 wearing one of Julio’s designs (it was shot by Avedon). He was also featured on the cover of British Vogue and Japanese Vogue.

Julio featured in Vogue 1978 spring collections

His designs were inspired by the iconic American fashion designer Claire McCardell who he refers to as his “guiding light as a designer”. He loved that “she set boundaries for herself of what was modern” and designed clothes that were easy to pack, weightless, and perfect for travel (she always traveled with just one suitcase). Julio’s goal was to create clothes that had the ease of a simple white t shirt: one could literally just pull them on and slide into them (“everything slid off the shoulder” he said). They were perfect for his customers who were looking for “liberation”.

He was known for his exceptional fabrication, wonderful color sense, an ability to temper tailoring with softness. He mixed together elements not normally found together (leopard spots and plaid for instance), and proposed flat shoes with everything (talk about being ahead of his time). His soft jackets (sometimes cut higher in front), high waisted pleated trousers, pull-on jumpsuits, draped blouses, cotton jerseys that wrapped around the body, fluid matte jerseys and bias cut layered chiffons were sought after by style icons such as Jacqueline Onassis and Babe Paley. “I kept a fashion house going for 10 years without any sizes, buttons, or zippers” he marveled. “We had such success”.

While he was not a household name, he had a cult following. Among his champions in the 80’s: the late John Duka, a revered style reporter for the New York Times, and Bill Cunningham, who at that time, wrote a fashion column for Details (in addition to his work at the New York Times). In 1978, he won the Lord & Taylor Design Award ( Richard Avedon shot the portrait that ran in W magazine).

Julio subsequently worked for Perry Ellis and Esprit, and in October 2000, he was appointed artistic director of Emilio Pucci (a post he had until 2003). Catherine Vautrin, the CEO at the time, believed it to be a match made in heaven owing to the famed Florentine label’s relationship to fashion and graphic art, and Julio’s experience as an “eccentric fashion designer” along with his talent as a painter and sculptor. Other projects have included interior design and product development. Highlights of his career comprise 3 covers of Vogue and have led to a first ever fashion installation at MoMA PSl.

When I asked if he is still thinking about getting back into fashion, he quickly replied, “Once fashion is in your system you can never get it out”. He also pointed out that many of the world’s greatest artists had a love of fashion, including Matisse and Rembrandt who both collected clothes. He said he loves seeing what people are wearing on the streets (“that’s the reality; magazines are the fantasy”) and has put together a portfolio of what he considers to be great designs from accessories to outerwear (they have yet to be shown to anyone).

When I suggest the horrible business climate might be a deterrent, his response was, “There will always be a customer for beautiful things. Running a business is the hard part. I’ve never been a good business manager. I am more of a hand’s on designer. There has to be a partnership between the creative and the financial” and he cited Tom Ford’s amazing success stemming from his partnership with Domenico de Sole.

– Marilyn Kirschner

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

1 Comment
  1. Friday July 10, 2020

    Dear Marilyn,
    I hope this note finds you well!
    We met many years ago during my time working with Giorgio di Sant’ Angelo and yours as fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar…yes, far too much time has passed!
    To my delight, and as I just last evening set upon to research Julio Espada, I discovered your wonderful report (2017) on Julio. I was so happy to read of Julio’s continued brilliance…to note, I was then and now a super fan of his fashion work and was quite impressed yet not surprised at the sharp relevance of Totem. Onward to Julio and thank you Marilyn for your passionate dedication to fashion!
    Martin Price
    P.S. …my Parsons School of Fashion email address:

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