SPACES – Michela Picchi, Italy / Berlin, Germany: “Someone designed that.”


Designer and illustrator Michela Picchi comes to Cleveland this fall, bringing her six-hue palette, a pop art sensibility and a fierce enthusiasm for a new opportunity.

Picchi, an Italian-born artist living in Berlin, is one of  six members of this fall’s Creative Fusion residency created by the Cleveland Foundation. Visiting artists are hosted by a local organization — SPACES, in Picchi’s case — and connected with a local artist. Multimedia artist Ryan Jaenke will be making public art alongside Picchi in the Detroit Avenue neighborhood on the near west side.
In a Skype interview in July, Picchi said she was looking forward to a more open, fine art process than applied art typically allows.  “What I want to do is work a lot less commercially,” Picchi said. “I’ve arrived at a point where I don’t want to compromise.”

Picchi’s first college degree was in political science, but she knew before she had the diploma in hand that she’d rather make art. It was a tough sell to her parents, who couldn’t figure out how their daughter would support herself.
Picchi remembers sitting at a table, fighting with them about it. She pointed to the label on a water bottle. “See?” she said. “Someone designed that.” Suddenly, they got it. Picchi earned her second bachelor’s degree in graphic design.


After graduation, she spent two weeks honing a limited, vibrant palette evocative of Peter Max from the ’70s. She started populating her website with pattern-heavy designs — swoopy, interlocking shapes and figures done in bright, flat color. Soon Picchi was getting commissions from Nike and Fendi. In 2015, the clothing retailer Pull & Bear hired her to hand-paint a VW microbus for a guerrilla marketing campaign in Barcelona. She did a second one in Paris.

Now, though, Picchi is stretching in a more self-determined direction. As SPACES executive director Christina Vassallo says, “She’s at that moment in her career where our little bit of help can help push her to a new place.”
Picchi and Jaenke will each paint murals on yet-to-be-announced buildings. Jaenke, who most recently was part of the Inter|Urban Red Line public art project, began by researching the neighborhood on foot and in the archives at Cleveland Public Library, where he works.
“We have a great collection of Cleveland City Hall’s (building) code violations documents from the early part of the 20th century to the early ‘90s,” Jaenke said. Those archives include photographs of buildings and signs.


The seeds of Cleveland history feed his art, Jaenke said, but what really interests him is “the vernacular history of a place, the businesses and the people who frequent them. I think that’s really important.”