Behind the Curtain

In 2006, while visiting the The Shanghai Museum, I found myself enamored with its calligraphy collection. Each black marking felt so alive – so present. I knew then that I wanted to make something for myself that would capture my presence and reward me with surprise.

November of 2007: My visual radar seemed to flash on the drawings of David Stone Martin, Ben Shawn, Ralph Steadman, and of course the spontaneous, gravity-infused tag markings up and down North Ashland Avenue in Chicago. During the nine months that followed, from December 31, 2007 through October 31, 2008, I created over 575 Notes to Self working with tools I had not experienced: a plastic syringe and a foam brush.

Notes to Self was obsessive in nature and unfolded into a personal narrative. Within the non-linear framework, I moved in and around personal fact and fiction, expression and release, chance and fantasy. As large scale personal journal entries, these personal recordings served as cathartic art therapy. The real reward, however, was found in those flashes of time lost for a moment in the moment. When gravity is a welcomed collaborator, there is no choice but to be very present.

Compositions just happened working in the perfect bohemian artist studio– the 13th floor of a Mies Van der Rohe condominium with its 40’, floor to ceiling panoramic view of Chicago overlooking Lincoln Park. These personal recordings were rarely pre-conceived and never studied in advance. Of the 575-plus recordings, some would delight, others would disturb as impulses, thoughts, moods, and emotional temperament, but all took a deep breath.

The Artist

Rick Valicenti is the founder and design director of Thirst/Chicago, a communication design firm devoted to art, function and real human presence. Rick was recently awarded the American Institute of Graphic Artists (AIGA) Medal in 2006 for his sustained contribution to design excellence and development of the profession. This medal is the highest honor in the graphic design profession.

Rick is a member of AGI (Alliance Graphique Internationale) and was awarded the 2004 AIGA Chicago Chapter Fellow. His works are included in the permanent collection of The Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum and the 2006 Triennial, Design Life Now.

Rick Valicenti provides inspiration to his colleagues and mentorship to a generation of students. For the past two decades, Rick has lent his time and energies to college and high school students in the form of workshops and personal critiques on the design industry.

A 356-page monograph on the Thirst work was published by the Monacelli Press in 2004 titled Emotion as Promotion.

The Praise

This is really beautiful…amazing and moving.

Paula Scher
Partner, Pentagram

An amazing body of work

William Drenttel
Founder, Design Observer

These are great and very inspirational. Wonderful. I’d buy a bunch in a second if it weren't for the fact that I have no white space left to hang them and I HATE art being collected in flat files.

On the off chance that I build a house, would it be possible to put an option on three of them?

Stefan Sagmeister
Designer, Artist

Thanks for sending me your drawings.
They are fabulous!....
I guess I'm not the only one who obsessively draws,
but now I'd better throw out that 4 color ballpoint
and get me one of those brushes and a lot of runny ink...

Anyway they are wonderful, and I love the little movies.

Ed Fella
Artist, Designer, Educator

Heartbreaking; great.

Marian Bantjes, Artist

Damn, they are all so cool!

Robynne Raye
Designer, Modern Dog Design Co.

Very, very nice! Makes me want to drop my mouse and pick up something else to create.

Rudy Vanderlans
Design Catalyst and (at last) a U.S. Citizen

Awesome! I see courage.

Rob Wittig, Author, Educator,
and Blogger (

I don't know the answers. What I know, by looking through your personal Notes to Self, is that I can feel your emotions, which is one of the most important human aspects in life. Thank you for sharing.

Satoru Nihei, Designer, Friend

They’re sensational!!!

Lu Sandhaus
LSD, Louise Sandhaus Design

Amazingly beautiful and moving.

Julie Laskey
Editor, ID Magazine

This is a fantastic piece of work.
Really astonishing.

I will definitely be buying one or two when you put them online for sale. I only have black and white art on my walls!

Adrian Shaughnessy
Writer, Editor, Designer

These are great!
Painful yet thrilling in so many ways.

Greg Samata
Designer, Samata Mason

Worth it, indeed.
(I’m always stunned by your talent).

Lorraine Wild
Designer, Educator, Writer

Yes! yes!
Can you set one aside for us?
Maybe 2?

Paul Sahre
Designer, Artist, Educator

Very cool!
I can see how that would be cathartic!

Stefan Bucher
Designer, Author, Artist

rick. this stuff is killa.
i'm blown away with each click.
you've busted it wide open too.
thank you again
and yes, there's more at the door.

Frank Ford
Designer, Entrepreneur

I’d love to hear what you have to say.