It’s all About the Money Editorial illustration, published cropped, 2001

Rick Valicenti

Location: Barrington, llinois
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For over twenty-five years, Rick Valicenti has practiced graphic design from an experimental, deeply personal point of view, while at the same time running a successful design firm that makes business itself a mode of experiment. His career makes good on the potential—achieved by so few practitioners—to mobilize design both as an independent undertaking driven outward from self-defined problems and as a functional tool that can serve up commercial messages with stunning bravura.

Valicenti lives and works in Barrington, Illinois, forty miles northwest of Chicago. Since the mid-1980s, his company, Thirst, has dealt primarily with design-industry clients based in the Midwest, from the furniture maker Herman Miller, Inc., to Detroit’s College for Creative Studies. Thirst’s self-published projects include Intelligent Design, a translation of the Book of Genesis into zeroes and ones, representing each digit with a can of Coke Zero or Pepsi One. For the book Suburban Maul, Valicenti sent T. J. Blanchflower, an intern from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, to photograph super-sized McMansions within a five-mile radius of Thirst’s home base as well as the signage on any store he recognized from Virginia; Blanchflower then matched up each big-box brand with a big-box home. Both self-published works project Valicenti’s voice as a cultural critic.

Valicenti has always insisted on keeping his commercial work as raw and independent as his personal endeavors. While his long-term clients love him, some casual shoppers can’t take the heat. An editorial illustration commissioned by ESPN magazine proclaims in huge, 3D-rendered letters, “It’s all about the money.” Simulated strands of steroid-enhanced golden jewelry settings suspend the rhinestone-studded text against a Tiffany-blue sky, providing what Valicenti calls “a suburban white male’s version of the pixel pusher/gangsta aesthetic.” The magazine chose to reproduce only a tiny segment of the full image, but Valicenti shows the whole deal in his 2005 book Emotion as Promotion, a large-scale monograph overflowing with dialogues, rants, and visual work. For Valicenti, the book is a manifesto for reinvigorating a field deadened by its own professionalism. He declares, “Civilization will forever be served when we find what we have forgotten we have lost: our reason for being. We must serve, honor, and respect human presence by design.” Valicenti’s intense, vigorous work is flush with just such presence.