Some of the most captivating caricatures of the American celebrity scene today are those of artist Robert Risko. His colorful style is as original as the famous people he draws -- and over the past 20 years he has drawn everyone from Dolly Parton to Jesse Jackson to Martha Stewart and Britney Spears. And, yes, he captured Lucille Ball for a 1986 cover of In Style magazine (see below). Risko's work has also graced the covers of magazines such as Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, as well as Rolling Stone and Interview.

Now, for our viewing enjoyment, the 43-year old artist is celebrating the first collection of his work -- aptly titled, "The Risko Book" from Monacelli Press.

Glenn Albin of Ocean Drive magazine calls "The Risko Book," a "lavish, nonstop whirl through popular culture, a bright and brilliant illuminated manuscript representing the flash of our age."

In an interview with Albin, Risko explains how he got started: "I always drew, as far back as I can remember. I drew my sister when I was five years old and she brought it to our mother and said, 'Look at this, I can't believe he can do this!' From then on it was as though I had a magic wand in my hand. Coming from a small town in Pennsylvania, I really stood out... By the fourth grade I was teaching our art class, but the only outlet for me was to belong to a senior citizens' art club. My only link to civilization was black-and-white television and Life magazine."

Risko attended Kent State University, and after spending a few summers in Provincetown drawing caricatures on the street, he moved to New York City. There he became an illustrator for top magazines. "They were something I grew up with and loved," he explains. "There's nothing like a glossy magazine, and I realized I wanted to be an illustrator for them." His first big break came from Andy Worhol and Interview magazine.

"I had been honing my style to look like what was happening at Interview at the time, which was oversized-tabloid, black-and-white and very Hollywood. My early style was black-and-white deco and I saw myself as an accessory to the photographs in the magazine. I finally met Andy at an autograph signing he was doing in the Fire Island Pines. I showed him my little business card that had my drawing of Diana Ross on it. He said, 'This is great. Call us on Monday.' So I did. Andy really encouraged me. He told me I should be doing Broadway posters and that he liked my work. He introduced me to Interview's art department and they started using me regularly. No other magazine gave you an oversized page with no type on it. It was like having a mini poster insert in a magazine. Plus it was a hotbed of talent in those days, with Robert Maplethorpe, David LaChapelle, Matthew Rolston, Herb Ritts, Bruce Weber..." From then on, Risko was very much in demand.

About his rather unique style, Risko says, "I really just try to capture forms and the structure of a person's features, rather than concentrate on superficialities. I like unequal proportions and ethnic faces. I usually exaggerate those characteristics. My goal is to have someone look at their picture and say that looks like their mother. I want them to see something in themselves that they have never seen before. If you have ever watched yourself on videotape and didn't know you were being filmed, it can be shocking. If you are aware of the camera, however, you are never really seeing a picture of how you look and act because you're self-conscious...

"A caricature is almost like public opinion of someone's media image. Many times when celebrities become too successful they lose sight of who they are...

"When I'm working on a likeness I start from a classical pencil drawing and work my way to abstraction. I like to have a week to work on something, but it doesn't take me the full week to work on it. I have to do it and step away, and then go back to it. To actually execute the finish could take two or three days."

Regarding his work and those of other artists, he offers, "You see a lot of photos, but a drawing done by a skilled artist can tell more than a photograph ever will. A photo is like junk food. It is an immediate read, you feel an immediate intimancy with the person, but in the long run a drawing is more memorable. Time magazine has done studies, and people remember an illustration of a person more than a photograph. A drawing creates an icon. A good photographer can do that, but most of them don't. Artwork plays into your dream consciousness..."

We can be thankful for artists like Risko, and books like "The Risko Book." It's a collection you will not want to miss!

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