NEW ORLEANS ARTIST
RICARDO PUSTANIO
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Portrait of Ricardo Pustanio by Photographer Steve Hebert 



Ricardo Pustanio
is an enduring icon in the world of New Orleans Mardi Gras float design and local artistry. Today his phenomenal creative talents are witnessed by thousands upon thousands of locals and tourists who throng the streets of New Orleans each year to catch a glimpse of one of the oldest and most prestigious parades of the season, the Krewe of Mid-City. Year after year spectators are dazzled by Ricardo’s original designs and foil creations, bringing the Krewe’s themes to vibrant life. Though now at what one might call the pinnacle of his success, it has taken Ricardo many years of hard work and dedication to get where he is today. And according to Ricardo, “The best is still to come!”

Born in New Orleans in January, Ricardo is the third son of local golfing legend Eddie “Blackie” Pustanio, a well-known icon of the sport. Even as an infant it seemed fame was destined to smile on Ricardo: when he was baptized, the famous “Diamond Jim” Moran was hailed as his godfather and all the major golfing pros who visited the elder Pustanio at his City Park Golf Course digs bounced little Ricardo on a famous knee at one time or another.

Early in life Ricardo demonstrated a profound talent for art, first expressed in kindergarten and grammar school artwork that was well ahead of its grade level. From an early age, Ricardo’s work was distinguished with prizes and praise.

Like nearly every child brought up in the city of New Orleans, Ricardo was brought out by his parents to enjoy the pageantry and revelry of the great old-line Mardi Gras parades. These halcyon Mardi Gras days of his youth were Ricardo’s first taste of the passion that would become the artistic pinnacle of his later career.

During the 1960’s the Krewe of Mid-City, one of the oldest of the great New Orleans krewes, would sponsor a float design competition among schools in the New Orleans area. This wasn’t to design life-size floats, of course, but the traditional, “shoebox” style that every New Orleans child so enjoys making. The entries were judged by Mid City’s reigning royalty and the winner would receive the honor of being mounted to the King’s float for the traditional Sunday before Mardi Gras Day parade.

Ricardo’s entries won First Place and rode with the King of Mid-City three years in a row: a true precursor of things to come. “In all honesty, I don’t think there’s a single picture of any of my shoebox floats,” says Ricardo. “But I can remember how proud I felt seeing my shoebox going down the street with the King. Now I feel the same way, only more if that’s possible, when I see my whole parade going by!”

But long before the Krewe of Mid-City would welcome its shoebox winner back as its premiere designer of the old-line parade, Ricardo spent many years distinguishing himself and his work in New Orleans and surrounding areas.

The winner of many art competitions throughout his life, his earliest prize winning work was created while Ricardo was still in Kindergarten. The piece hung in the children’s area of the New Orleans Museum of Art for many years; other early works could be found on display in the New Orleans Cabildo: most are now in private art collections in New Orleans and across the U.S.

In the early 1970’s Ricardo began a long association with local New Orleans radio station WRNO-FM where he distinguished himself as Art Director for many years. Ricardo has been credited as the designer for the now familiar WRNO 99.5 call-letter logo, as well as the guitar logo that was popularized by the radio station in ads and on billboards, posters and t-shirts throughout the 1980’s. Ricardo is the designer of the artwork for the limited release WRNO compilation albums featuring notable New Orleans rock acts of the era.

Ricardo has also worked for several decorating companies in the New Orleans area including Freeman, Spangenberg, Schmidt Brothers, Andrews Bartlett and Associates, Exhibition Contractors, and International Productions to name only a few. Ricardo also lent his talents to several local properties companies in creating background and scenic designs for major theatrical productions, large stadium performances, conventions, and many of the famous grand balls of legendary Mardi Gras krewes. His fantastic backdrop for the first year “Save Our Lake” fundraiser was an event highlight and was later auctioned for several thousand dollars.

Ricardo served Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre as Technical Director for its 1992-1993 season during which he contributed his considerable artistic talents to the creation of scenery and backdrops for the season’s major productions including “West Side Story,” and “The Baby Dance,” for which he created a giant 60 ft. by 30 ft. papier mache pyramid, one of the highlights of the season. Ricardo’s set designs for the production of “King Midas and the Golden Touch” and “The Snow Queen” each won him numerous awards.

In 1992 Ricardo also began his long association with William Crumb and the Children’s Educational Theatre. His work on scenery and backdrops has toured with the company in 13 major productions across the U.S. and he continues to contribute his talents to the organization to this day. Ricardo’s has also donated his time and talent to a number of non-profit organizations including the Save Our Lake Foundation and the March of Dimes.

Ricardo’s special style was also very visible in his work on numerous backdrops and displays for the 1984 New Orleans World’s Fair; several of his original pieces from that Fair have garnered high prices at auctions throughout the U.S. and Europe. Ricardo also displayed his talent with scenic design in some of the best-known, locally produced films including “Angel Heart” starring Mickey Rourke, “The Big Easy” starring Dennis Quaid, Anne Rice’s “Interview with the Vampire” starring Tom Cruise, and most recently in the much anticipated “A Love Song for Billy Long” which stars John Travolta and was filmed on location in historic New Orleans.

Over the years Ricardo’s work has crossed many mediums. His work as a muralist can be seen in public buildings, restaurants, and private residences in New Orleans and across the Gulf Coast and Florida. Additionally, Ricardo has conceptualized and designed numerous book covers and illustrations for major works of Science Fiction and Fantasy: he was voted Best New Artist of the Year at World Cons held in New Orleans and in Amsterdam, Holland. Ricardo has also illustrated children’s books, created portraits and artwork for private clients across the U.S. and in Europe, and has to his credit three original action comic books, the illustration and design of the long-running International Middle Eastern Dancer magazine, and several decks of personalized Tarot cards.

It is no wonder Ricardo has been named one of The Hardest Working Artist in the City of New Orleans.

But through it all Ricardo has never lost that feeling of childhood wonder first inspired by the New Orleans Mardi Gras parades of long ago, and, in fact, he has never missed an opportunity to work in the float design medium.

In his career, Ricardo has worked with several of the leading Mardi Gras float decorating and design companies including Blain Kern Designs, Barth Bros.and Royal Artists. Over the years he has worked as the main artistic designer for many famous New Orleans krewes including Zeus, Babylon, Sparta, Tucks, Pegasus, Pontchartrain, Selena, Pandora, Hercules, Okeanos, Minerva, Shangri-La and Venus. He recreated the major Arch de Triumph float for the Corps de Napoleon, and his work was paraded unchanged for eight seasons. He has designed for krewes as far away as Morgan City, Louisiana and Mobile, Alabama, and Texas and his work has been in demand as rentals for several local parade organizations during the local celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day, the Italian-American Parade, and even as a float for Santa Claus in a local Christmas parade.

It was through his association with Royal Artists that Ricardo was re-introduced, as it were, to the famous old-line Krewe of Mid-City, unique among all other Mardi Gras parades for its hand-made, all-foil floats. Unlike other parades that use papier mache, plaster and paint, often to excess, the Krewe of Mid-City has remained faithful to the unique foil designs it first introduced to the Mardi Gras tradition in 1933.

For Ricardo, the opportunity to work on the magnificent and outrageous foil floats of the Krewe of Mid-City was like the culmination of a life’s dream, and memories of his first foil shoebox floats were not far off. When, following the death of designer Betty Rae Kern and the change from Royal Artists in 1999, Ricardo became the exclusive Artistic Designer for the old-line krewe, the dream became reality.

Ricardo’s designs and innovative creations in foil have taken the old-line parade into the 21st century with a fantastic new look, to the delight of parade-goers everywhere. Ricardo’s work on Mid-City has garnered the krewe the coveted title of Best Day Parade for several consecutive years and much of the credit for this distinction goes to Ricardo’s phenomenal talents and his fearlessness in experimentation with the foil design medium.

Each year, Ricardo builds upon and then surpasses his plethora of designs until it seems that there is no end to the types and varieties of creations he can mold from simple foil, mylar and wire. With nothing more than a heavy-duty stapler, a sheet of foil and his imagination, Ricardo has brought the fantasies of children of all ages to life before their eyes and the traditional Sunday-before-Mardi Gras Day parade is one of the most anticipated of the entire season. In fact, the flow of onlookers – newcomers and old timers alike – never stops while the parade sits idle, lined up, waiting for the word from the Krewe Captain to “Move Out!” With smiles of delight parade-goers approach each float as one would approach a major work of art, in wonder and curiosity, reaching out to touch a glittery tassel here or a luminous mirror there, or to shake one of the huge, bobbing flowers that look as if they were picked right from the garden of the Wizard of Oz.

Even while his work is giving so much pleasure, Ricardo is still creating, often crawling onto a float at the last minute, brandishing a stapler and unfurling colorful foil like a flag, producing yet another beautiful creation in minutes and right in front of gaping onlookers. It has been speculated among Mid-City Krewe members just how far all the foil that makes up Ricardo’s designs would reach: around the world several times or to the planet Mars are the usual answers. The Krewe of Mid-City, in all its many manifestations at the hand of this extraordinary artist, is truly a work of genius and is always, if you listen to Ricardo talk, a work in progress, an ever-growing and expanding work of art that each year gives pleasure to thousands.

Ricardo has said, in reflecting on his artist achievements, “I have paid my dues many times over the years and I am always in a constant state of expectation: I can’t wait for the next challenge, the next thing to approach me. I am probably most proud of my work with the Krewe of Mid-City in recent years, because they have allowed me an unlimited palette to create with: the only limit is my imagination, and as you see, that has never had any limits!”

In looking toward the future, Ricardo has phenomenal plans for making history with his designs for the Krewe of Mid-City. But, he says, “I would love to get my hands on some of the other old-line Krewes again. What I have learned is that the only real approach is a truly hands-on approach, and that excludes all the technology and animation that have become a part of float designs in recent years. Because of this a lot of the famous krewes have become stale and redundant: they all look alike. I would like to see them all look unique, one from the other, and the only way to achieve that is to pour your own heart and soul into it and not be afraid to use your hands.”

Ricardo Pustanio has never been afraid of pouring his heart and soul into everything he does, and his hands have been busy creating designs that have brought joy and pleasure to literally thousands of people over the years. He is truly The Hardest Working Mardi Gras Artist in the City of New Orleans and in the history of Mardi Gras design. Luckily for us, he plans to continue his unique styles of design and artistic creation for many, many years to come.

FLOAT DESTROYED DURING KATRINA REDECORATED


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