Hanging on my office wall is a digital print on metal of a little girl with a paintbrush facing down a giant rhino whose toenails she has painted fuchsia. In black silhouette, the girl looks like a cross between a Banksy image and the Fearless Girl statue on Wall Street. The pair are standing on a dystopian city sidewalk in front of a graffiti-covered building that appears to be an abandoned factory.
So many of you have noticed it in my Zoom events and asked me about it that I wanted to share the story behind the picture, entitled “Real Rhinos Wear Pink.” Actually, I have two stories for you: both how it found its way to me and how the Chicago-based artist, Matthew Coglianese aka The PigShark (more on that later) came to create it.
The picture was on display in a booth at an art fair on Michigan Avenue in front of the Chicago Tribune building in July 2017. I had just done an interview with Amy Guth on the “Business Lunch” show at WGN Radio, which at the time was still on the ground floor of Tribune Tower and faced out of a fishbowl window with a view of people passing along the Magnificent Mile. (Like many Chicagoans, I was sad when the Tribune moved out of the iconic 1925 building in Summer 2018.)
It was a few days after a front-page, above-the-fold editorial in China’s official newspaper, People’s Daily, warned of the need to be alert for “gray rhino” financial risks, causing stocks perceived as risky to fall 5 percent. Gray rhinos are, of course, the obvious, probable risks that we’re all too likely but not condemned to neglect and which are the subject of my third book, The Gray Rhino, which had been published in China a few months earlier.
The People’s Daily article, coming after an important policy meeting where gray rhino theory figured prominently in the conversation, warned of the need to address specific financial risks: liquidity and credit shocks, shadow banking, abnormal capital market fluctuations, real estate bubbles, and unregulated online financial services.
The unusual high-level reference to a term coined by an American author, combined with the signaling of a coming policy crackdown on financial risk areas outlined in the article, generated headlines all over the world, hence the radio interview at WGN.
A friend was visiting from New York City and had come downtown with me to sit in on the interview. Afterwards, we strolled through the art fair and ended up at Coglianese’s stall and discovered Real Rhinos Wear Pink. The image fit the feeling of the moment perfectly.
I loved the courageous little girl standing up to the giant rhino and fearlessly painting its toenails. After all, one of my central messages is that while gray rhino risks can be daunting, they also bring with them opportunities like the chance to paint giant toenails crying out for a dash of color.
I bought the picture on the spot. Because I’ve been getting so many compliments on and questions about it, I reached back out to the artist to get the story behind it.
The picture –technically speaking, a dye sublimated print– is part of the second round of a series Coglianese started in 2013. Escape Artist Series 1 was in black and white, placing animals digitally into cityscapes.
“The first series didn’t necessarily have the dystopian background. It was more normal city scape shots with animals, as natural as possible. Some were more obvious, some more subtle, all black and white,” Coglianese told me when I asked him how the picture came to be. The animal images were inspired by friends, one of whom loves elephants and had just moved into a new home with walls screaming out for artwork.
“Artists are directly influenced by everything we experience, especially the people around us,” he said. “There are pieces of the people around me in all of my photos. They may not know it, but they are there.”
Though other people also have told him that the silhouettes remind him of Banksy’s work, that street artist was not really on Coglianese’s radar when he began inserting silhouettes. Nor had the Fearless Girl statue yet been erected when he started work on Real Rhinos Wear Pink in late 2016.
“I got the idea for that particular image from just hanging out with my buddy and his younger daughter,” he told me when we caught up. “I wanted to make something that was kind of whimsical. The reason that I used a silhouette and not a picture of an actual person was that I wanted whoever was looking at it to be able to envision anybody –not to pigeonhole it– so that it could strike a chord with as many viewers as possible.”
He made a sibling image, “Real Rhinos Wear Green,” with a little boy instead of a girl. He’s continuing the series, and when we spoke was about to do a custom version of a new work.
The Escape Artist series began long before Coglianese started showcasing his work at art fairs, which he says has taught him a lot –not only about other artists’ work and techniques but also how people respond to his own art.
Coglianese grew up in Chicago’s Mount Greenwood neighborhood and now lives in Canaryville. He found his passion for digital art when he was taking an elective course in college in computer art (“essentially an introduction to Photoshop,” as he now describes it). His day job is as a graphic artist for an awning company, where he’s worked since 2006.
He has a degree in computer graphic design from Lewis University. One of his college projects was a 4’ by 4’ painting of an eyeball, focused tightly just on the iris. A friend bought it and hung it on a wall that was visible through the front door. When the friend installed an awning over that door, the owner of the company that installed the awning saw the painting and asked about the artist, because he was looking to hire someone.
That was just one of the many connections Coglianese made through his work. “I want to try to get my artwork in as many people’s homes as possible, and you never know who is going to see it,” he told me.
Coglianese creates and sells his work under the Pigshark rubric, inspired by a two-dimensional logo he’d made in college: a pig’s head on a shark body. “My last name is not easy to spell, so if people were to try to find me to look me up online, I wanted a name that would be more memorable,” he told me.
To learn more about his work, visit Coglianese’s website. Enter the discount code “RHINO” for 20 percent off any order.
This article is part of my LinkedIn newsletter series, “Around My Mind” – a regular walk through the ideas, events, people, and places that kick my synapses into action, sparking sometimes surprising or counter-intuitive connections.
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