Rick Fiala was born in Detroit and grew up in Michigan, Joplin, Missouri, and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he graduated from Penn Manor High School. Rick attended Penn State University, taking art studio classes, along with academic courses. He moved to New York City where he worked as a graphic designer in book and magazine publishing. Rick got to know Athens during his many visits to see his grandmother and mother, who worked at the Georgia Museum of Art. After stints in Miami and Atlanta, Rick moved to Athens in 1997. He worked as a designer at UGA for ten years, and then at Emory University until his retirement in 2015. Rick lives on the East Side with his partner, Bob Williamson, and their cat Zoë.
What was your favorite part of your career?
Being a magazine art director in New York was the best. It was demanding—there were a lot of late nights—but I loved working with editors, photographers, and illustrators, and every issue was a new adventure.
What is your favorite thing to do in Athens?
Seeing a movie at Cine and having dinner downtown. I like going to the Athens Farmers Market, the Georgia Museum of Art, the Botanical Garden of Georgia—there’s so much here to see and do. I also like low-key socializing, dinner and watching movies with friends at our place or theirs.
If you could see any band, dead or alive, and it could be anywhere, who would you see and where?
Well, it wouldn’t be a band, but a person: Laura Nyro. She wrote songs unlike anyone else, with unusual chords and beautiful lyrics. Her voice had a huge range, very soulful. I would want to see her in the studio to watch how she put her songs together. I’m fascinated in how records are made—how the original idea becomes a rich, full production with input by the artist, the studio musicians, and, of course, the producer.
If you could put anything on a billboard, what would it say?
I’d design a billboard with a handsome young man in sunglasses looking pretty proud of himself and leaning up against his very expensive car. The headline would be “What Your Lottery Ticket Bought.” I would put these billboards up in all of the poorer parts of Georgia to point out where people’s lottery money is going.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I’m appalled at times thinking about the carelessness and callousness of my long youth. When my bad decisions came back to haunt me, I would always think that I’d do better in “the future”—that time would fix everything. Before you know it, though, those bad little decisions have built into your life story. I would tell my younger self to take things more seriously. And my younger self would probably think, “Maybe I will— tomorrow.”
Do you have a favorite book, or one you always go back to?
The Short Stories of Flannery O’Connor. I came late to Flannery O’Connor and her work was a revelation to me. The stories are funny and horrifying, and the endings stay with me for a long time after I’ve put the book down.
If you could travel anywhere in the world right now, where would you go?
I haven’t been to Spain or Italy, so those are on my list. And I’d like to go to Poland, because I have family there and the country has changed so radically since the fall of communism. It’s getting a reputation for food, too: Krakow was named “European Gastronomic Capital” last year… Did I mention Greece and Egypt?
What is something interesting about you that most people don’t know?
I always have a science book going—I especially like reading about life processes and quantum physics. Quantum physics is fascinating because it gets down to questions of what “reality” is actually is. I don’t understand it, but then no one really does.
If you could have lunch with anyone, anywhere, who would it be and where?
I’d have dinner with Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs,—before they got famous—in some West Village dive, filled with smoke and disreputable-looking characters.
What three words or phrases come to mind when you think of the word “home”?
Comfort, creativity, and Bob (and Zoë, but that’s four).