Antonio Lopez

by Jim Turner


Antonio Lopez

The Return of the Resplendent Inkwell

For ’80s art students, there were no computer-based degrees. Macintosh computers were basically word processors for home use—not yet imagined to be design tools for artists. Degrees for commercial artists leaned more towards the fine arts. Most of the art students I knew had dreams of becoming illustrators, fashion illustration being the most desirous vocation because of the allure of working with designers and models on high-end campaigns by day, before hobnobbing as an entourage at night. The desire to live in that glamorous art/music/fashion world far outweighed the lack of pay most illustrators ever hoped to earn, and more than any other illustrator at the time, Antonio Lopez (whom many of my peers labeled the “Picasso of Illustration”) was that dream personified; dress style notoriety.

Antonio thrilled the fashion world, the art world, and the up-and-comers with his loose, ultra-sexy, freehand watercolor-swashed depictions of Missoni, Norma Kamali, and Yves Saint Laurent clothing in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, and Interview. Fans unabashedly gasped while thumbing the pages of monthly fashion tomes, mesmerized by a lavishly color-soaked spread of one of Lopez’s models wearing a stack of hats, her flowing hair intertwined like vines amid scarves and ribbons. Roger Padilha, co-author (along with his brother Mauricio) of a new book on Antonio Lopez, Antonio Lopez: Fashion, Art, Sex and Disco (Rizzoli), agrees. “Antonio was the first illustrator to come out of the backrooms of WWD and The New York Times and become a star in his own right. Before him, illustrators were really not recognized publicly. His work obviously spoke for itself, but also his personality and personal style made him a fashion celebrity and his image was seen in the society pages and editorials, in addition to his work. He was over the top in his wardrobe, a ‘party starter’ who loved to dance, and he always brought out his model discoveries, whom he would style himself. He learned from Warhol the importance of an entourage and cultivated his own which got him a lot of recognition.”

It’s been almost 30 years since I first felt that giddy art student excitement when Lopez’ first book, Antonio’s Girls, dropped and everyone came to realize that fashion illustration was Art with a capital A. Fashion, Art, Sex and Disco was like an injunction to go into full-blown nostalgia the second it landed on my desk. Not only was I derailed with ’80s flashbacks, I remembered why I fell in love with Lopez’ illustrations the first time I saw them. The drawings’ lines remain as loosely sensuous as they were before, the exotic colors more stunning than I recalled. The monograph truly encapsulates Lopez’ life and portfolio, and oddly enough, the work remains timeless—something I would have not imagined given his very ’80s milieu. His paintings make me long for a pre-photographic time of magazine advertising—for designers and creative directors to return to illustration for their campaigns—but quickly I realize no one would ever be able to match Lopez’ style and grace.

Still, it’s exciting for a new generation of artists, art lovers, and art students to relive or discover the life’s work of one of the world’s most progressive fashion artists whose life was taken too soon at the age of 44 in 1987 by complications related to AIDS. “We felt it was important to do a book that would speak to the new generation,” says Roger Padilha. “It’s amazing, but as famous as Antonio was in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, so many people don’t know who he is, or how much his influence is still being felt today. Maybe it’s because he came before the Google boom, or maybe it was because he died of AIDS (which was taboo back in the early ’80s), but we felt he was virtually forgotten and there needed to be a book to show the world his genius. We would like for the new generation to understand where things they see today really come from. So much of the art direction we see in magazines today, the styling of designer runway shows, and the new illustrations are either directly inspired by Antonio or come from a long path of inspiration that can be traced back to when Antonio did it first. We want to give credit where it is long overdue.”

I miss the days when we weren’t “giving credit” but actually living on it. I miss happy hours. I miss fern bars, 10-cent drink nights, graffiti artists, men wearing imitation pearls, and Bright Lights, Big City. I miss red velvet rope-fronted nightclubs and the handpicked celebutantes lounging around. I miss bottomless bubbly in Baccarat flutes, plates piled high with Beluga caviar that by night’s end were reduced to a black paste studded with abandoned cigarette butts. I miss pure, gum-numbing cocaine openly and daintily sniffed from tiny silver spoons, “unisex” restrooms—with males, females, and males dressed as females and vice versa sharing cubicles for urination and conversation, our open arms (with jacket sleeves pushed up to the elbows) welcoming everything, overindulgence and hedonism, the concept of now, the glamorous moment stretched to dawn, that early morning scramble we met with ubiquitous sunglasses, to hide our dilated pupils from suited stockjobbers scurrying along downtown sidewalks to work the world’s markets. Actors, writers, burgeoning fashion designers, musicians, artists and art students, and anyone else who was there, headed back into the daylight, exhausted. Most stopped at fern bars for the first and (for many) the final meal of the day. It was at any of these ’80s Nouvelle Cuisine establishments where Jerry Hall could be spotted nibbling on anything wrapped in phyllo, or a tri-color pasta salad (which surely included cilantro, mango, and flaked gold leaf), with Antonio Lopez, a Polaroid camera likely hanging on his shoulder.

It’s this image of this particular time that I’d most like to preserve, which is why I’ve proudly positioned the book, Fashion, Art, Sex and Disco, on my coffee table, within arms reach (sleeves, of course, slid back to the wrist), for the next time a group of middle-aged cocktailed celebutantes’ conversation seamlessly slips into tales of our glory days of debauchery as the new, artsy digital generation rolls their eyes. Somehow, Antonio Lopez’s life in print makes the ’80s feel glamorous again, and I feel like drawing again.

Courtesy of Paul Caranicas. All artwork and photography copyright the Estate of Antonio Lopez and Juan Ramos.