THE JEFFREY FULVIMARI INTERVIEW by Julia Charvat
Jeffrey Fulvimari is one of those fortunate, rare souls with a highly-tuned internal magnet for attracting greatness. He is a creative pinwheel, swirling the world into a trance with his hypnotic, multifaceted imagination. He has illustrated thirteen of Madonna’s The English Roses children’s books. He has his own international brand called Bobbypin. He has modeled for Calvin Klein. He has won a Grammy for album cover design. He has worked with countless designers, photographers, and musicians. He is also a musician under the name Jeffrey “Lefty” Fulvimari, and currently has a development deal with SMG/Universal Music Group, with a single to be released shortly and a full length album “OXO, Lefty” available later this year.
I became a fan of Fulvimari’s artwork when I stumbled across his Bobbypin line at a Cleveland based Kohl’s department store about eight years ago. Since purchasing my first Bobbypin wallet that day, I’ve searched for all things Bobbypin, purchasing items from international sellers on eBay. When I’m having a rough day at work, I just need to look down at my cheerful Bobbypin mousepad for an instant jolt of optimism. Bobbypin products range from cosmetic bags, stationary, photo boxes, clothing, and much more. They all feature girls with big eyes that melt away your troubles.
Fulvimari frees the sad faces of big eye art of 1970s velvet paintings and releases them into a modern-day age of whimsy and joy. All of Fulvimari’s girls possess a wit, almost as if they hold the secret to life’s happiness in their glittery gazes. I’m incredibly honored that Fulvimari agreed to be interviewed for Mimosa Meltdown. He is already a star, continuing to rise high above into grandiose atmospheres.
You grew up in Akron, Ohio, and studied at The Cleveland Institute of Art. Being a fellow Clevelander, I must ask: How did your time at The Cleveland Institute of Art help prepare you for your creative career?
“Well, I had what are called my ‘foundation’ years there. In art school, the first two years are spent slavishly studying the basics of drawing and painting. Drawing apples over and over and over and over and over, and the nude figure, and painting still lifes again, and again, and again and again. I had the best life drawing teacher, and he pretty much taught me everything there is to know about drawing, so yea, it prepared me very well. It is a great school.”
What prompted your initial move from Cleveland/Akron to New York?
“Well, after two years [The Cleveland Institute of Art] decided to not give me a scholarship, so little did they know I had applied to Cooper Union, and got accepted, and so, keep your scholarship, Cooper is 100% FREE. Everyone was sort of shocked. Most of the kids were too intimidated to apply. It was a good feeling, because I initially had been intimidated too!”
Your drawings of fashionable girls with big eyes are so unique that there is no mistaking your artwork for anyone else’s. The girls all seem to have a sparkle behind those eyes, a wisdom locked in their dreamy stares. When did you begin drawing your signature girls?
“Actually, I started drawing girls like that in junior high. I guess it started on notebook covers. I had actually broken into a suitcase that had belonged to my deceased Grandmother, who died when my Father was a little boy. He had it hidden under his workbench for whatever reason, and I just had a feeling it was a little bit forbidden, but since I was obsessed with her, I couldn’t resist. I’m glad I did, because she had some drawings she had done in high school, in the 1920’s, of flapper styled girls, head and shoulders like the ones I do. It wasn’t until years and years later that I flashed back and realized I got it from her.”
I first became your fan when I purchased a Bobbypin wallet from Kohl’s. I was just obsessed with the girl with the saucer eyes sweetly raking up autumn leaves. Soon after I found a box of the cutest note cards I’d ever seen, and turned it over to discover the Bobbypin name. Thus began my desire to collect every Bobbypin item I could find. Are you still creating new items? Where is the best place to buy Bobbypin today?
“That is very sweet of you to say. My branding is pretty much everywhere EXCEPT in the USA. Bobbypin is based in London, and also sold in Europe and Latin America. I have a slightly higher priced line of leather goods, bath goods and bone china in Japan, and have since 1998. So you sort of have to hop on a plane to get it, I’m afraid.”
What I love just as much as your drawings are the sayings that often accompany them. Which comes first, the drawing or the accompanying poetry?
“It’s a draw. Pun intended.”
How did you come to be a Calvin Klein model?
“Well, I dressed as a girl only one time in my life…for Halloween. And I ran into a friend who was standing with Steven Meisel (the two had been roommates in the 1970’s). I didn’t even talk to him, but the next day I got a call in my tiny little east village apartment and the day after that I was modeling for Calvin Klein.”
You’ve worked with David LaChapelle. I would imagine that you must have inspired each other because you both create colorful pop fantasy. Can you tell me in what capacity you’ve worked together?
“I modeled for him for more than several years. He discovered me at an ATM. I hadn’t previously considered myself to be ‘model material’. David is actually the first person in New York who encouraged me to begin my illustration career. He was quite adamant about it, so I had to oblige.”
In 1994 you won a Grammy for your CD artwork for the Ella Fitzgerald The Complete Songbooks box set. How did that feel to be recognized in such a big way? I feel like I should ask that cheesy question all of those red carpet interviewers ask…Where do you keep your Grammy?
“Well, since I am a lowly illustrator, the record company (Verve Records) kept the Grammy and I got a certificate. And that is in storage. I’m not one of those people who display awards to impress my guests. Not to put it down, but it’s just not my style. I do something else that is gauche, though. I hang my own paintings in my house, so I’m not trying to act like I’m perfect. Hopefully this will incite a chuckle or two from your readers. If not, have a nice day!!!”
“I did the artwork for the limited edition boxed set of Scarlet’s Walk, a great album. And when I say ‘limited edition’ I mean over 400,000 copies. It’s Tori Amos, remember…”
You created a line of scarves for Louis Vuitton. Are you still designing for Vuitton or any other designers?
“I am actually doing a t-shirt for Anna Sui this week. I have always worked for her since the very beginning. Anna and Marc [Jacobs] have both been extremely supportive of me throughout the years. Marc actually hired me before Anna, when he was designing Perry Ellis. I’m assuming everyone knows that Marc designs Louis Vuitton.”
Perhaps your most well-known client to date is your work with Madonna. You illustrated 13 of her English Roses children’s books. The artwork is so bright, so happy, and features your wise, stylish girls. Can you talk about how you first found out Madonna wanted you to illustrate her books? Did she approach you?
“I was at the mall, and bought a copy of Vanity Fair [with Madonna] on the cover. I sort of kind of noticed that she was working on children’s books, but didn’t really think about it. It was just information taken in at a quick glance. THEN a few weeks later I got a call from a publisher who was interested in talking to me about illustrating a celeb children’s book, but they couldn’t tell me who it was, and asked could I meet with them. On the way there it dawned on me that it was Madonna, and sure enough, it was. The rest is herstory.”
Did Madonna ever tell you how she discovered your work?
“Madonna found my work through the art director for the project, Toshi Masuda, who is Japanese. He’s very talented and had also done [Madonna’s] Sex book. He knew my work from Japan mostly.”
Besides the clients I’ve mentioned, are there any others that stick out as being significant or as favorites of yours?
“Wow, it’s hard to pick favorites. I have to say I am truly grateful, because I sure as heck didn’t make it happen, it all just sort of came into being and they all found me somehow. But the feathers in the cap would have to be Vogue, Visionaire, Interview. I have to stop, I’m turning red. I feel like I’m bragging now. Oh, and Barney’s New York in The New York Times. And a Pepsi can in Japan was fun. I will stop now, because I dunno just because.”
I read on your Facebook page that your “one true dream is to sing and record original music.” You have a single coming out soon and an album out later this year from SMG/Universal Music Group. Can you talk about what we can expect to hear from you musically? Are you hoping to get a friend for your Grammy?
“Yea, maybe a real Grammy statue would be great. But still I would probably give it to my Dad. Wow that just made me cry a little bit. My Dad is a singer, and my main inspiration. He’s the reason I’ve been wanting to do this all of these years.
The record is hot. It’s completely different than anything else I did before musically. My producer, Kyle Bynoe, is amazing. He wrote all the songs. I have written many songs before, but this time around (I have recorded many unreleased songs in the past few years) I met this guy, and I’m telling you, he’s a certified genius. And after getting to know me and my story, he wrote lyrics that proved to me that he knew me better than I know myself. I consider myself a lyricist, and have penned a bunch of tunes in the past, but sometimes you have to step outside of yourself for the pure objective viewing. It’s like he painted a portrait of me, and allowed me to self portraitize it with my voice. I can’t wait for everyone to hear it. It’s 100% hot, 100% danceable. I like to say it’s Michael Buble meets Daft Punk, but I hate comparisons. The only way to describe it is that it’s indescribable. It’s truly music that paints a picture!!!”
Illustrating, designing, modeling, music…is there anything you can’t achieve? Any other frontiers you hope to tackle?
“I want an Oscar…….Meyer Weiner. And at the end of it all I wish to be buried in the beautiful chapel/mausoleum in my families’ hometown of Captignano, Italy. This would be my final frontier. I’ve never been there, but I’ve seen pictures. It has a beautiful blue starred mosaic ceiling. I love thinking of how maybe my Grandpa Augie ran around it as a kid.”
Keep up on all things Fulvimari at: http://leftyfulvimari.tumblr.com/
Follow Fulvimari on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/leftyfulvimari
More Fulvimari, including some Bobbypin items for sale at: http://www.jeffreyfulvimari.com/