Spotlight: John Varriano Artist

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John Varriano
1980 A&D graduate says high school was “Inspiring”

by Christine Berardi

See more of John Varriano’s art at:

“The years I spent at the High School of Art and Design (A&D) were truly inspiring,” says John Varriano, who graduated in 1980. “Thousands of students and teachers shared their talents, and encouraged and supported one another. It was a wonderful creative environment.”

John’s passion for the arts began as a six-year-old boy who loved to draw. At age 12, he began copying Michelangelo, Rafael and other Italian masters from books. His family of artisans, carvers, stone masons and other builders encouraged him to explore his creative side through drawing, sculpture, architecture and music.

Although he enjoyed the varied types of art taught at A&D, he gravitated to architectural design. After graduating in 1980 and going on to the New York City College of Technology, John worked in his family construction business and pursued a career in architecture and civil engineering. He worked as an architectural exterior wall inspector for a land developing firm that built New York’s Battery Park City, as well as an architectural draftsman for other architecture and design firms. In his late 20s, he left the family business and began building his art career. “I have to be honest it was too demanding to be a contractor by day and an artist by night,” he said.

Thanks to his cousin’s advice, John attended Bartending School and was able to get a bartending job at Manhattan’s famous Four Seasons restaurant. “My new work schedule provided me the flexibility to paint full time,” John said. For a number of years in between pouring Martinis and glasses of Burgundy, he would take a pen to napkin or pad and sketch some of the patrons at the bar. Many of the regular customers loved his sketches so much that they began purchasing and commissioning paintings from him.

I am an artist because the knot is so powerful I just can not, nor want to be, anything else or do anything else.”

– Elizabeth Ross

After many years of working full time at creating and selling his art, while at the same time continuing to bartend, John decided that the rigors of two jobs were a bit too much. He left the posh setting of the Four Seasons and as he did in the past, took his paintbrush and paints to the streets of New York. With a life’s passion for New York City, he would take his easel to the sidewalks and parks, capturing the everyday life of everyday people. His up-close and personal realistic oil paintings of New York City sold steadily. This led to a number of gallery shows in Manhattan, Philadelphia, Palm Beach and Connecticut, which helped propel his career and also gave him the thrust to go forward with the concept for his current project. “New York, the Gilt Edged to the Inner City”.

In 2009, John’s artwork was on the front page of the New York Times, which was only one of two paintings to appear on the cover in the newspaper’s history. The following year, he presented his paintings and gave a lecture at the prestigious National Arts Club. John exhibited a number of his paintings in a group showing titled “A New York Frame of Mind” at The Flinn Gallery in Greenwich, Connecticut.

“It was with a conscience decision and a deep belief in art, and what I can perhaps contribute to it, that I chose to face the challenges of being an artist,” John said. “I am most at peace when in the process of creating something.”


 I am most at peace when in the process of creating something.”


To learn more about John Varriano and to view his paintings, go to his website at
Christine Berardi is a freelance writer and can be reached at


John Varriano’s A&D Memories


Q: Do you have good memories of your time at A&D?

Yes, I have wonderful memories of A&D.

Growing up in Astoria Queens, it was always an exciting experience taking the train to Manhattan everyday to attend what I felt to be the greatest High School in America.  Best of all was meeting and forming friendships with students that were interested in Art in all of its varied facets.  The teachers were great also.  It was such a free and liberating time, and you could literally feel the creativity pulsing in the air.

Q: Were you inspired by the teachers at the school? One in particular?

I admired many of the teachers at Art & Design, who were for the most part generous in the sharing of their knowledge, ideas and talent.  I also appreciated the fact that many of them had worked as professionals in their respective fields prior to teaching at A&D.  In retrospect,  it seems as though there was a general school philosophy for the teachers to instruct us in the necessary rudiments of what we were studying, while at the same time allowing us room to grow on our own and discover our unique natural talents.  Both of my Architecture teachers, Harold Krisel, and Mr. Gupta were good men,  who aside from teaching the technical aspects of Architecture, were willing to engage us in open discussions regarding the philosophy of Architecture.  Harold Krisel studied at The Illinois institute of Technology, and worked as an Architect with Skidmore, Owings and Merrill prior to teaching at A&D.  He was also a talented abstract painter.  Being part of that whole mid Twentieth Century Bauhaus/Abstract movement, he was a low keyed, mild mannered inspiration.  I also admired the work of  Max Ginsburg and  Mr. Greenberg although I didn’t study with them since my major was Architecture.

Q: In what way did your time at A&D influence your decision to become a artist?

My time at A&D was instrumental in my development as an Artist. From the time I entered the School at the age of 14, I knew that this was the world for me.  Going to School with so many students who were talented in a multitude of ways was an inspiring experience.  I also discovered that regardless of their particular field of study, many artists share certain character traits such as the “creative spirit”, and a unique way of looking at the world.  As I mentioned above, the school provided an open and liberal atmosphere where we were free to express ourselves.  Aside from Art, a number of us were musicians and singers and it seems to me that the whole place was vibrating with sound and vision.

Q: Do you have advice to high school students considering a career in the arts?

My advice to the students at A&D is to choose what you love, or at least enjoy as a career.  Creative people generally have a hard time with complacency, and by nature are compelled to create, so strive for that.  Life has its ups and downs for everyone, but as an artist, if you follow your inspiration and work hard, you will sustain yourself and  generally prevail.  As the late great Joseph Campbell said, “Follow your Bliss”.


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2 Thoughts on “Spotlight: John Varriano Artist

  1. Barbara D'Alleva|

    We are so proud of the incredible work you are doing Cousin John. Only wish we were able to purchase one of your paintings for our home. Second best would be to attend one of your exhibits. Your paintings are phenomenal. We love and miss you.

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