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In Their Wildest Dreams
Suzanne Gannon | Photo: Daniel Gonzalez | October 25, 2013
Artist and celeb photographer Raphael Mazzucco and his wife, fellow photog Lisa-Marie, have made their Montauk home into a serene, wondrous kingdom inhabited by flora and fauna of all kinds—and when we say “all kinds,” we mean all kinds…
On a warm Saturday afternoon in early October, photographer Lisa-Marie Mazzucco is steering her SUV down the winding gravel drive to the Montauk home she shares with her husband, artist and celebrity fashion photographer Raphael Mazzucco, and their son, Sascha, a photography prodigy currently in his sophomore year at the Savannah College of Art & Design.
“What’s that crate?” Lisa-Marie says aloud, but really to herself, eyeing a cube of plywood marked “J.F.K.” that will not be explained for another hour or so.
She exits the car, luminous in her tennis whites and neon-laced sneakers, and leads her guest through the front of their 1982 modern, drenched in the color of a dark Castelvetrano olive.
Its soaring, 22-foot portico makes for an imposing entry flanked by slim vertical windows and smooth columns that suit the cathedral of a space that waits inside. As do the rough-hewn, barn-wood doors and the large abstract painting entitled “The Big Bang” that hangs above them.
Part family living room embellished with color-saturated, sensual art and a fireplace tucked into a grouted pile of stones they designed, part candlelit gathering place for party guests of Interview magazine and the like, the room also serves as a studio where Lisa-Marie shoots portraits of the giants of classical music. They’ve included The Emerson String Quartet, cellist David Finckel, pianist Wu Han and violinist Philippe Quint. (She has also photographed Itzhak Perlman and Joshua Bell, but those sittings took place in the city.) The Steinway Model B baby grand that dominates one corner of the room comes in handy as a prop. She found it, its original ivory keys intact, on Craigslist for $9,000. If refurbished, she says it could be valued at as much as $80,000.
Moments after being summoned, Raphael enters the room barefoot, his shiny black hair matched by the glistening black rabbit fur of his Erro jacket, which he has combined with a leather vest and cotton leggings, also by Erro, his line of choice. One gathers the ensemble is typical Saturday-afternoon-at-home attire for a man whose clients have included Guess Jeans, Victoria’s Secret, Bergdorf Goodman, L’Oréal, Ralph Lauren and French and Italian Vogue, among many others, and whose recent projects include the cheeky—in more ways than one—photo tome Culo (“rear end” in Spanish), which he completed in collaboration with Interscope Records Chairman Jimmy Iovine and Sean Combs. The several covers he shot for Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue may have qualified him for the job.
“This is where I paint,” Raphael says, gesturing with amusement at the wooden floor beneath him, which is splattered with a rainbow of colors—inks, oils, acrylics, resin—and bears the outlines of the frames he makes to contain the art.
Windows 18 feet above drill beams of sunshine into the darkness of the room, which is clad in boards reclaimed from barns. In one corner, a large rectangular shadowbox with a glass top serves as a coffee table likely to inspire conversation with what’s inside. Anchored in shiny transparent resin is an eclectic collection of articles emblematic of a mind alive with wonder: a vintage typewriter; a dog-eared play script bound in red; stones from the nearby beach; and a fragile, bleached-white object with ribs and a tiny head.
“That’s a pigeon skeleton,” says Raphael, who glued a tawny-colored dead gannet into another outdoor piece. He explains that the coffee table was once a fish tank—distinctive, no doubt, for the eclectic habitat it provided for its finned residents.
High up on the walls hang pieces of his art, some images shot in the exotic places to which he travels for fashion work—Vietnam, the Amazon, Madagascar—and some snapped right here at home on the South Fork.
There’s a terrifying image of a dark-haired female model, naked and shaking (one imagines) on large rocks just feet from the tumbling force of Iceland’s Dettifoss, Europe’s most powerful waterfall.
“I was yelling to her to get closer to the water,” says Raphael, “but she couldn’t hear me because the roar was so loud. She kept sitting down, then standing up, so I had to shoot fast.”
Another languid beauty reclines at eye level. She floats in a pond, her body partially concealed—almost in a protective gesture—by the wingspan of a swan. Raphael, who says he’s inspired by the natural surroundings at the location of his shoot, took the photo nearby, at Big Reed Pond, after Superstorm Sandy.
Yet another work, his visitor points out, brings to mind the psychedelic cover of Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy album.
“You know, you could be right,” he says, an artist mellow in his milieu. The space is seductively soothing yet highly stimulating, a place for virtuoso performance that also hints at a potential for late-night parties where some really trippy things could happen.
Raphael says he begins his mixed-media pieces with a black and white digital photo. (Usually it features a nude female model worthy of a statue by a sculptor unfamiliar with the silhouettes of Peter Paul Rubens.) Then he prints the image on a machine roughly the size of a plotter and adds flamboyant touches of paint or pigment—some made from spices—that lend the piece an intense drama or emotion: isolation, loss, tranquility. For dimension, he slathers the composition with resin and affixes the found objects that strike his fancy—feathers, butterflies, shells, skulls.
“The objects bring nature and an organic raw feel to my paintings,” he says. Represented by the Boca Raton-based Rosenbaum Contemporary gallery, he typically fetches between $40,000 and $50,000 for his pieces.
The Mazzuccos arrived here from New York City in early 2002. They met in 1990, when Lisa-Marie was a hair and makeup stylist assigned to one of Raphael’s fashion shoots in Vancouver. Just back from three years in Japan, she assumed that with a name pronounced “Mazuko,” he must be Japanese. Together they went on to live in Milan, Montreal and Amsterdam before settling in New York.
“We’d never even heard of Montauk,” she says. Like her husband, she’s a native of Vancouver. “We didn’t know it existed.”
They drove out with the modest goal of buying some property, and wound up with a 3,500-square-foot house on an undulating acre with a view of Fort Pond Bay.
“It was all white,” she says. “A true beach house, like Miami Vice.”
Shortly after moving in, they enlisted the help of local carpenter Thom Fleming, who is known for his flair for reclaimed wood and tree trunks with live edges. Following a requisite demolition of the mirrors on the master-bedroom ceiling—Raphael chuckles when he recalls his sledgehammer technique—the Mazzuccos went to work downstairs.
They added a dining nook adjacent to the large kitchen in what had been an outdoor space accessible through sliding glass doors. It’s furnished with a table and benches Fleming hewed from a single 300-year-old elm that was taken down in East Hampton about 12 years ago. In addition, the couple built a fully equipped outdoor kitchen screened off from the yard by a lattice on which they can hang kitchen and barbecue implements. It’s conducive to the entertaining they do on a frequent basis when Raphael, who spends about six months of the year on the road, is at home.
“Several friends have followed us out here,” Lisa-Marie says, estimating that they hold four or five dinner parties a week for pals who love to cook.
Individual stones, smooth underfoot, are sunken into the grout in several rooms, including the bathrooms, which feature open showers, a sauna equipped with infrared technology for regulating body temperature, an angular tub made of teak and boulders with natural notches ideal for rolls of toilet paper. In the master bath, the sink is carved from a single piece of Arizona turquoise, while the posts on the bed in the guest room are pilings salvaged from the old Montauk Yacht Club.
Out in the garden—much of it sculpted by Raphael’s father (who travels in from Vancouver), with landscaping help from Raphael’s assistant, Elizandro NijCanel—there’s a pool and a lily pond (3 feet deep, to keep the goldfish warm in winter), as well as a divan made from the root of a teak tree, which Raphael says is too heavy to move. Boulders are sunken into the Earth to form a woodland path that wanders from the water side of the property up the hill. A weeping cherry tree, a stand of sinuous, multi-trunked Montauk shad trees, a butterfly bush where more than one monarch butterfly has alit, a lilac and a concrete container of bamboo are among the many botanical points of interest. When a neighbor built a tall, gambrel-roofed, cedar-shake mansion that impinged on their slice of the pond, the Mazzuccos planted a graceful stand of cryptomeria trees to reconfigure their view.
Apart from the foliage, some of the most distinctive aspects of the landscape are the deceased creatures found by the artist, like the swan with its head bowed, that testify to the natural curiosity of the modern-day Charles Darwin in their midst.
As the tour winds down, we return to the car. Raphael approaches the plywood crate marked “J.F.K.” and taps it with his finger.
“Do you know what this is?” he asks, a mischievous twinkle in his brown eyes. “It’s a moose head from Canada. I haven’t figured out what I’m going to do with it yet.”
In the car, Lisa-Marie smiles and says, “He probably hasn’t figured out how to get it out of the crate yet.”
If the rest of his portfolio is any indication, one can bet he’ll figure out not only how to remove the antlered bust, but how to turn it into some wild piece of art.