Fairfield native curates show of Italian artist's 'charming, funny and very colorful' work

Steven Guarnaccia is something of a renaissance man in the art world.

Born in Fairfield and now living in Brooklyn, N.Y., Guarnaccia is a graphic designer, illustrator of children’s books, a professor in the department of Illustration at Parsons The New School for Design in New York and a curator.

“I grew up in Fairfield and my parents were both school teachers in the public school system,” Guarnaccia said. “New York was always a beacon for me and the cultural life of New York was really my cultural life growing up. My grandfather was a jeweler who had an office across from the Museum of Modern Art.”

Steven Guarnaccia is currently curating an art show at the Center for Italian Modern Art. 

Steven Guarnaccia is currently curating an art show at the Center for Italian Modern Art. 

Courtesy of Steven Guarnaccia

Guarnaccia was surrounded by art, design and education. He felt almost destined for a career in the arts.

“I almost felt like I didn’t have a choice,” he said. “I grew up in a very academically-oriented family. Lots of relatives were in academia and my brother was academically gifted. But I drew from the time I was three years old, and to some degree, I carved out my own identity through illustrations.”

Illustration and design called to him, as it was the intersection of words and images.

“I love to draw, but I never lose my interest in language,” Guarnaccia said. “Academia was a big part of my creative inspiration. My goals were to work for Disney or Mad Magazine, and as I got older I wanted to draw for The New Yorker.”

As a student at Brown University, he took a leave of absence to work for an illustrator in Westport and Fairfield, and then went to Italy for a year to study Italian, never returning to college.

“I discovered a love for Italy that I never knew I had,” Guarnaccia said. “Everything sort of crystallized in terms of what I wanted to draw while I was away, and I discovered this great visual culture in Italy. I came back and felt ready to be a freelance illustrator.”

Over his career, Guarnaccia has been a contributor to MoMA and a plethora of companies in the field of industrial design, designing jewelry, watches for Swatch and murals for Disney Cruise. He’s also served as art director for The New York Times’ opinion section for three years, with work published there and in many other publications.

Guarnaccia is leading a new exhibition of works by artist Bruno Munari at the Center For Italian Modern Art in New York City, which will be on display through Jan. 14. Entitled, “Bruno Munari: The Child Within,” the exhibit showcases the legendary artist’s playful side, with a large part highlighting the late artist’s books for children.

“I have a particular interest in kids’ books and I feel like the best are not just for kids,” Guarnaccia said. “Bruno Munari was a guy who designed lamps and furniture and wrote books about design, but also made these really interesting books for kids that were visual and verbal and used the form and shape of the book to tell the story. Every part of the book contributed to the experience of reading the book, and to me, that was his genius.”

Guarnaccia said he’s been a fan of Munari’s work since 1969, when he first read a review of “The Circus in the Mist” in the New York Times, and followed the artist’s work up until his death in 1998. Guarnaccia also includes Munari’s books in his Parsons classes.

“The goal of the exhibit was to introduce audiences to Bruno, who is not too well known here,” he said. “This is work that is charming, funny and very colorful, and he uses sophisticated ideas so that people can recognize that books are really wonderful.”

Both Guarnaccia and Munari were published by Italian book publisher Corraini Edizioni, and the two once crossed paths at an exhibition years back.

“I was lucky enough to meet Munari at the opening of his 1991 exhibition, ‘Invece del Campanello’ in Milan,” he explained. “I introduced myself as a great fan of his work. He immediately took me on a door-by-door tour of the exhibition, putting me on one side of each door and himself on the other as we enacted the whole panoply of doorbell alternatives, from the ridiculous to the sublime, that included pulling a fox tail on one side of the door, which activated a duck call on the other.”

Guarnaccia is also known for his unique sense of style, often wearing vibrant outfits.

“I feel the same way about getting dressed in the morning that I feel about sitting down to make an illustration,” he said. “I think about the kind of story I want to tell, so I choose the colors that seem the most appropriate for the moment. I’m really happy to mix a pair of purple pants with a bright green sweater and an orange jacket. Women shouldn’t be the only ones having fun when getting dressed.”