The openly gay artist, writer, designer, photographer and filmmaker (and the brother of mega-pop-star Madonna) is coming to Philadelphia in a professional capacity, to judge Nightlifegay.com’s first-annual Gayborhood Games, a talent competition seeking the best in local practitioners of dance, comedy, drag, bartending and more, Sept. 26.
But Ciccone says that judging the games will seem like a vacation compared to his hectic, jet-set life.
“I think it would probably be something fun for me to do,” he said. “I haven’t been to Philly in ages. I wanted to do something a little bit lighter than the stuff that I’ve been dealing with lately. Not that it’s heavy stuff, but I do a lot of what I do in my head and it would be nice to get out of it for a while. So this is the perfect thing for me to do.”
Ciccone’s résumé must be as thick as a telephone book by now. He’s done everything from one-man art exhibitions and photography to directing and designing major concert tours, music videos, films and building interiors.
Amid those endeavors, Ciccone also found time in 2008 to dish on his famous sister with his bestselling memoir, “Life with My Sister Madonna.” While Ciccone admits that working for — and in the shadow of — his sister had its perks (like designing and directing her “Blonde Ambition” and “Girlie Show” tours), it wasn’t a walk in the park. Many assume his pedigree is the only thing he has going for him — as though he were riding on Madonna’s haute-couture coattails.
“I kind of always felt that way when I worked on her tours,” he said. “There were periods where I felt like I had to prove myself over and over to the people around me who figured I was there for just that reason. For my artwork, interior and photography, there’s nothing that she can do [for me]. It has to stand on its own and if it doesn’t, that’s pretty apparent right away. If my being her brother got me in the door, I still have to prove myself, be creative and make something worthwhile in respect to whatever field I’m in.”
And prove himself he has. His interior designs currently grace a number of restaurants and homes in New York City, Miami and Los Angeles. Ciccone, who lives in all three, says each has a unique character that influences his work.
“People in Miami are the most laidback and the least complicated,” he said. “Everything starts to slow down when you get there. If you don’t slow down to their tastes, you’re going to drive yourself crazy. In New York, everything is sped up and if you don’t step up to their tastes, you’re just going to get left behind. The architecture, the scenery, the things that I design, the things that are in my head and the characters that I write about reflect wherever I am on some level.”
Over the last few years, Ciccone has pulled back a bit from his design work to focus more on other artistic pursuits, one of them being his artwork. He says while he has few favorites among contemporary artists, he is influenced by the works of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Pablo Picasso.
“I don’t like one period over another. Obviously, Picasso is an inspiration. I don’t know what artist isn’t inspired by him.”
He adds that of all his artistic endeavors, painting and photography are his favorites.
“I’m passionate about I do,” he said. “The painting, for example — which is what I’m focused on right at the moment, because I have an exhibition coming up in December in Miami and one in Dallas in January — painting is the one thing I do completely on my own. No one else has anything to put up. When you do design, you working with somebody else. It’s work by committee. The painting and photography is completely my own. That’s what satisfies my soul the most.”
Ciccone will have to juggle his upcoming exhibitions with a number of other projects he has in the works, one of them being another book. This time, he says, it’s something fictional, and that switching literary gears is another challenge.
“Once you do one and it’s a bestseller, of course you have greater access to people and connections, editors and publishers and that kind of thing,” he said. “But you still have to be a good writer. Writing fiction and nonfiction are two different things. Fortunately, there are still a lot of things in my life that I can draw from and fictionalize that have not been written about. There’s plenty more stuff out there that I deal with on my regular day-to-day basis that can be fictionalized into a novel or into characters or broken down into story lines. But you still have to be a good writer. It makes it more acceptable, but it doesn’t make it easier.”
Ciccone’s other current projects include a few scripts he’s writing for the screen and stage.
“There’s a couple things up in the air right now,” he said. “One is about an Italian countess from the turn of the century. She’s a fascinating character and I think it relates to the current contemporary celebrity scene in a circumspect and true way. The other one is not a screenplay but a play for the stage that I’m attempting to adapt from Arthur Rimbaud’s ‘A Season in Hell’ for a one-man play, which I’ve never done before. I’ve written scripts before but never a play. This will be a first for me. We’ll see what happens. We prefer to keep trying new things, keep myself on my toes and challenge myself.”
For someone used to pulling together the look and vibe for expensive buildings and multi-million-dollar productions, Ciccone says he’s somewhat prepared to have someone else take a stab at making the script look good.
“There’s always that day,” he said. “I’ve already been through that. I have done rewrites on my own stuff based on other people’s opinions. I’m totally aware the process of filmmaking is a group process and you’re never sure of what you’re shooting until the day you’re shooting it because producers to actors to executives to studio people have an opinion. You’re sort of obliged to make these adjustments unless you’re Steven Spielberg and you can do whatever you want to do. I am prepared for that but it doesn’t mean I’m going to like it.”
And if Ciccone’s life hasn’t already made you feel lazy by comparison, there’s more. He’s also working on a music-based reality-TV project that will likely make use of his talents as executive producer of whatever he’s gleaned behind the scenes with artists such as Dolly Parton, Tony Bennett and what’s-her-name.
Ciccone says while his taste in music runs the gamut, the show will be aimed at grooming pop stars.
“Just like artwork, I have a range of tastes,” he said. “I like some pop. I like some alternative. I like some country. But what we will be more focused on is the pop world. The important part of what we’re doing is not so much an ‘American Idol’-style show but something more of what it takes to create an icon. I can’t really talk too much more about it. It’s more mentoring than competition. It’s intended to give a person a real idea of what the world and the music industry is like. It’s the things you need to know, not to just get one hit song or two, but to stay pertinent and stay on top for 10-20 years, like Madonna has.”
Christopher Ciccone appears at the first annual Gayborhood Games along with guest judges Derek Hartley, Tim Bennett, Oh My Josh, Bobby Rail, Jeisohn Fiala, Miss Aeryanah Von Moi and Karen Gross, 7 p.m.-midnight Sept. 26 at Voyeur (formerly Pure Nightclub), 1221 St. James St. For more information, visit www.nightlifegay.com or www.christopherciccone.com, or call (215) 833-4165.
Larry Nichols can be reached at email@example.com.