Sunday, August 4, 2019

Tony Dagradi's Collage Sculptures at Ferrara

How is graphic art history like jazz history? It mostly isn't, but the two come together in the musical and graphical artistry of Tony Dagradi. Best known as the founder of the Astral Project band, Dagradi's ultra-smooth saxophone playing weaves in and out of the sounds of his fellow instrumentalists in what may be the closest thing to a classical contemporary jazz combo. Classical since, if you listen closely, you can hear the history of modern jazz reborn in sleek new forms. Dagradi brings a similar sense of context to these forty-four book sculptures, about which he says, "the juxtaposition of abstract shapes... is very much how I perceive the interplay of melody, harmony and rhythm.”
 Modern jazz and comic superheroes both rose to prominence in midcentury America, so Dagradi's new “Graphic Novel Series” based on the vintage superheroes of his 1950s childhood seems especially in keeping with the midcentury timeframe of his musical influences. Since he favors collaboration and context, it makes sense that in “Heads Up – Ultimate Spiderman,” top, the flamboyant superhero framed by an old book is leaping out from a supporting cast of characters packed tightly as sardines into the composition. All are emoting, grunting and beaming dramatic expressions at the viewer in a way that replaces any formal story line with Spider Man sociology -- the collective fantasy realm from which he sprang fully formed, a magical being who could perform feats mere mortals could not. What links this collage sculpture with others based on old illustrations, many from early 20th century Compton's Encyclopedia sets, is the sense of wonder they all convey of a world brimming with mysteriously exotic people and creatures. In “Tea Ceremony,” another collage framed within another old book, a pastoral Japanese tea house and geisha appear in subtle colors contrasted by black and white views of steam locomotives, skyscrapers, businessmen and others from around the Western world and its colonies. For Dagradi, context is what matters and his collage sculptures immerse us in illustrations of vast multitudes of people and fantastic creatures as seen through the vintage cultural vision of Western eyes. ~Bookhardt / Diffusion: Hand Cut Book Sculptures by Tony Dagradi, Through Aug. 30, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, 400A Julia St., 522-5471.