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Thinking of the box: Picasso’s Pizza embraces art - INTERVIEWS

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

Few people pay attention to pizza boxes.

After all, why would you? Your piping hot slices are camping out inside, where the cheese is perfectly fresh and a tad bubbly, not cold and congealed. You whip the top open and sink your teeth in, perhaps hogging the biggest piece with the most girth-y chunk of sausage.

Barely a glance at the box.

Picasso’s Pizza, the local pizzeria chain that’s resided in Western New York since 1980, is trying to delicately adjust your approach to pizza consumption by tying in art.

Back in November 2013, Picasso’s Pizza box design was highlighted in this USA Today article by Jayne Clark, which teased Scott Wiener’s book, “Viva La Pizza! The Art of the Pizza Box.” 

Armed with an understanding of New Yorkers’ obsession with pizza, Wiener collected 100 of the strangest pizza box designs, photographed them and wove the images and his insights into a 144-page work.

Wired Magazine gushed about Wiener’s insights, calling the book “[a]n intensely researched love song to [pizza boxes].”

Back to Picasso’s, though. The artwork, which appears only on the box of the restaurant’s large pizza, was commissioned by Picasso’s Pizza CEO and president of design Larry Santora, to Michael Biondo of local company Biondo Art.

In an interview with Biondo, the local artist noted that he’d lived around the corner from Santora and had grown up with his daughter, Nicole.

Santora, Biondo explained, had a specific idea for the pizza box in mind but had tried other designers who failed to illustrate his thought.

Aware that Biondo specialized in design, Santora reached out to his neighbor and was satisfied that the project was in good hands, commissioning the artist on a rather unorthodox task.

The pizza-box branding concept wasn’t lost on Biondo, whose day-job as an in-bound marketing graphic designer at Amherst digital marketing agency Mainstreethost plants him in an environment at the intersection of business and communication, where the values of advertising space and branding are common threads.

To Biondo and Santora, a mundane, brand-less pizza box signaled a wasted opportunity.

The artist spent the next eight months—with a few simultaneous projects as well—crafting the quaint Italian town you see in the header image.

Although he hadn’t been to Italy in his adulthood, Biondo admitted that following Santora’s strict idea of a realistic-yet-romantic Italian business corner wasn’t too difficult, as the artist’s mother was born in Sicily and Biondo himself had spent time there during his childhood.

Inspired by the viral nature of Clark’s post on Wiener’s book—heck, news of the pizza-box fascination crossed the pond—Picasso’s hasn’t stopped featuring Biondo’s design on its large pizza and has pressed forward with other designs for different-sized boxes.

“In the last two years, we’ve been in the process of changing all of our boxes and decided to buck the trend and develop a different look for each box,” Santora explained in an email.

As a result, Picasso’s entrusts its medium pizzas to the “ZA” box, its large pizzas to Biondo’s artwork and it’s party-sized pizzas to a “Party Time” box. You can see images of the ZA and the Party Time boxes above and below, respectively.

“We’ve always wanted the box to reflect our pizza, and finally technology has caught up with our hopes and dreams.”

So, before you enter attack mode on your next pizza—whether it’s Picasso’s or not—pay quick attention to what’s on the box and appreciate the place where art and food can overlap.

(If you’re an avid reader of throwback Tumblr pages, you should visit Picasso’s photo-blog).

(Photos courtesy of Picasso’s Pizza)

TAGGED: biondo art, interviews, larry santora, marc digiore, michael biondo, picasso's pizza, pizza

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