After Vasari

writings on artists and artworks and where they exist

Schizzo: Slackenings

by Paul D'Agostino

Bosco d'inverno, mixed-media drawing on paper, 2014.

Bosco d’inverno, mixed-media drawing on paper, 2014.

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Slackenings

It was still raining a decent bit, but
a thick warm wind began to blow in
from faraway plains,
they say—the very same plains,
they say, that tend rather to send cold and snow
this time of year.

So the air that should’ve been frigid was
moist and sweet;
the raindrops that should’ve been snowflakes
were raindrops.

Seldom are showers and gusts
quite so welcome when arriving in tandem,
but there are times when they’re like gifts
from skies.

There are times when seasons slacken their grip.
There are times when life does the same.

A winter storm will hit hard within days, they say.

But within hours tonight’s breezes and drizzles
will give way to a quiescent, temperate mist.

And the breathing will be good.

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Artwork & text, P. D’Agostino

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* This drawing, Bosco d’inverno, is currently in Sideshow Nation III: Circle the Wagons, a large group exhibit at Sideshow Gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, on view through 15 March 2015. More information here.

Studio Visits: New York Studio School

by Paul D'Agostino

One of Ana Portela's variably veiled works.

One of Ana Portela’s variably veiled works.

 

After Fran O’Neill asked me to give a talk about my artwork and curatorial practices at the New York Studio School several weeks ago, I had the honor of being invited back to spend an afternoon doing ‘open critique’ studio visits with a number of students whose bodies of work are distinct and diverse from one another in terms of materials employed and formal approaches alike. Here are some images of studios and works that I had a chance to look at and ponder, accompanied by some observations I put together in longer ponderings thereafter.

Katelynn Mills in her studio with some recent works.

Katelynn Mills in her studio with some recent works.

Perhaps more of a canvas-bound interventionist than merely a painter, Katelynn Mills makes visceral, very literally manually executed pieces that are matters of wounding and healing, tearing open and concealing, nurturing and suturing.

Adrianne Lobel in her studio.

Adrianne Lobel in her studio.

Adrianne Lobel in her studio.

Adrianne Lobel in her studio.

Adrianne Lobel, in her variably scaled renderings of empty parking lots, lone delivery trucks and desolate storage facilities, creates compositions full of exuberant light and quiet charm out of what one might otherwise regard as perhaps rather overlookable suburban mundanities. Their loss, Lobel would indubitably maintain—and her gain.

Ana Portela, the only artist I met with working primarily in sculpture—though she’s also been tinkering with a series of drawings turning her sculpted three dimensions back into two—cloaks figure-like yet mysteriously vague forms with multi-media overlays splayed out in classically indicative, momentarily marble-suggestive furls and folds, at once veiling her subjects and subjectifying her veils.

Portela's studio.

Portela’s studio.

Jack King in his studio—with his new muse.

Jack King in his studio—with his ‘new’ muse.

In their shared studio space, Jack King and Darrell Hostvedt work through and against prior careers and professional practices in very different yet equally effective ways. King, inspired by photographic images—sometimes his own—and impressionistically informed palettes, taps into memories and emotions in a way that now channels, now challenges certain convictions he had honed and intoned during his long academic career in psychiatry. What’s more, he has also recently located his true artistic muse in an old wooden chair that has become a synecdochic embodiment not only of his grandmother, to whom the chair once belonged, but also of a vast trove of associations and memories through which he can pick for depictions. Hostvedt, meanwhile, after working in construction for many years, now finds himself peering further and further into detailed segments of a particular landscape to extract its constituent forms, thereby deconstructing a certain glimpse of natural objects to then render them back into larger compositions in watercolor—at times building back onto them with reconstructive, collaged additions.

Darrell Hostvedt with a recent work.

Darrell Hostvedt with a recent work.

A glimpse inside one of the nooks in Jacobs's studio.

A glimpse inside one of the nooks in Jacobs’s studio.

Laura Jacobs, finding herself quite literally overwhelmed with spatially charged inputs and insights upon moving into her quaint, quirky, warmly lit and brilliantly many-windowed studio—a most peculiar cranny within the New York Studio School dubbed Guston’s Kitchen, for reasons that are likely quite clear—traces, molds, reiterates and re-renders her deeply curious surroundings like an archaeologist, an archivist, a narrative-seeking dramaturge in the midst of an ever-shifting stage. While Jacobs used to work in set design, it seems she’s now situated such that a certain set seeks to design itself into her work.

Finally, Stephen Walsh, a painter and draughtsman who knows well the challenges of harnessing abundant light and formal beauties from time spent in Italy, makes his most successful paintings when he is able to work against his own skills in drawing, in a way, such as in his recent treatment of the biblical narrative of the Annunciation, a work that’s quite readily audible in its silent splendor—and thus splendidly fitting for its spiritual context.

Stephen Walsh passing before his treatment of the Annunciation.

Stephen Walsh passing before his treatment of the Annunciation.

Studio Visit: Pamela Butler

by Paul D'Agostino

Pamela Butler in her Bushwick studio.

Pamela Butler in her Bushwick studio.

Comprising installations, paintings, collages, sculptures and drawings, some of them scaled large for window displays, as well as text and video pieces, Pamela Butler’s artwork is, in strictly material terms, densely layered. Her layering is also conceptual, however, entailing strata upon strata of feminism-inflected sociocultural critique—from gender discourses and body politics to issues of ethics, socioeconomic disparities, broadly societal shortcomings and common, mundane anxieties.

Layered, stratified, dense. There is a definitive gravity to Butler’s reflections of the world around her.

Nonetheless, Butler’s point of view is that of a regard, not a glare. She channels her observations and commentaries constructively, artfully, not derisively. Her reflections read more like refractions. Her opinions are apparent—or at least intuitable, surmisable—but never so blatant as to give viewers the whole story.

Pamela Butler 2

Again, her art is about the layers. Or her art is to be located therein.

More simply, perhaps, layers are her art.

From beauty pageant contestants to astronauts, from traditional tropes of femininity to contemporary representations of women in mainstream media, from meditations on ‘female art’ to evocations of women’s variable presences and absences throughout art history, Butler’s subjects are at once generally recognizable and close to her heart, both overtly public and essentially personal.

Much of what we talked about when I visited her studio pertained to notions of the body—as object, as idea, as container, as surface, as malleable, as regularizable, as regulatable.

Such notions, much like Butler’s artworks, are densely layered. Not unlike the dermal tissues that encase and protect our physicality.

So much talk of all of the above brought to mind a passage a philosopher friend of mine, Andrea Borghini, recently passed along. It’s from Imaginary Bodies: Ethics, Power and Corporeality, by Moira Gatens (Routledge, 1996). Here she discusses Spinoza’s views on the divisions and sutures between mind and body by positing the latter as the “ground of human action”:

The mind is constituted by the affirmation of the actual existence of the body, and reason is active and embodied precisely because it is the affirmation of a particular bodily existence. Activity itself cannot be related especially to body, mind, nature or culture, but rather to an understanding of the possibility of one’s participation in one’s situation as opposed to the passive ‘living’ of one’s social, political or even brute existence. This active understanding does not, and could not, amount to the mental domination of a body-machine, since thought is dependent for its activity on the character of the body and the manner in which, and the context in which, it recreates itself.

I’ll close with that.

Thanks, Pam. Thanks, Andrea. Thanks, Moira.

And thanks, Spinoza.

Pamela Butler 3

Schizzo: Shores

by Paul D'Agostino

From a series called "Partenze." Mixed-media drawing on card stock.

From a series called “Partenze.” Mixed-media drawing on card stock.

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Shores

Caution, no.
On the side of trust
is where one has often erred.
Where one will continue to err
until skies themselves come slumbering
down, until grounds themselves
yawn wide open.

Count on the sun, meanwhile,
to continue to greet you.
And on the moon, too,
to persist in tugging waves to shores
bearing perils, treasures and
the reliable pleasure of that
pure, familiar noise.

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From a series called "Partenze." Mixed-media drawing on card stock.

From a series called “Partenze.” Mixed-media drawing on card stock.

Artwork & text, P. D’Agostino

Schizzo: Nebulous

by Paul D'Agostino

Nebulous, ink, graphite and gesso on paper, 3" x 8," 2013.

Nebulous, ink, graphite and gesso on paper, 3″ x 8″, 2013.

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Nebulous indeed were the heavens that day.

Nebulous, too, remained the fate of the crew.

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This drawing is part of a group exhibit at Lesley Heller Workspace.
Organized by Adam Simon, the show is called Clouds.
It is up until 26.1.2014. More information here.
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Artwork & text, P. D’Agostino

Schizzo: Save Us in Echoes

by Paul D'Agostino

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Evento ad avvento / Event to Advent, 1-4
Series of polytype monoprints with cross-diminishing palette
Oil on card stock, 2012. Click on one for slideshow of all.

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Save Us in Echoes

It seems to only make sense
to want all at once
all the world’s faiths and gods,
and all the world’s science and reason,
all of the eras and errors that feed them,
all of the fairest and worst of seasons,
and every twilight and every dawn,
and every midnight and every eclipse,
and every storm and every calm,
every cloud and dew and mist,
all of the flora and all of the fauna,
all the balm and all the song,
and every whisper and breath and gasp,
every shout, every cry,
and every word of every knowledge
of every number of all things known.

But we know time to be cloven and brief.
We grieve over griefs that have yet to be sown.

And we’ll never grasp fully
the trees nor the seas.

Uttered words mean nothing
to their echoes.

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Artwork & text, P. D’Agostino

Juxtaposition: Site-specific sculpture and historical quilts

by A.L. McMichael

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Top photo: Victoria Royall Broadhead (American). Tumbling Blocks Quilt, circa 1865–70. Silk, velvet, wood, 64 x 68 in. (162.6 x 72.7 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Mrs. Richard Draper, 53.59.1. Brooklyn Museum photograph. Photo by Gavin Ashworth, 2012. Bottom photo: El Anatsui (Ghanaian, b. 1944). Gli (Wall) (detail), 2010. Brooklyn Museum photograph via Flickr.

Editors’ note: Writings on After Vasari bearing the Juxtaposition heading examine the unexpected placement of one object or experience alongside another, offering new avenues for contemplation.

Two curatorial narratives, examined in tandem at the Brooklyn Museum on a summer afternoon, struck me as unlikely counterpoints.* Multi-media sculptures by Ghanaian artist El Anatsui invite exuberant ramblers through the metal, paper, and wood that compose Gravity and Grace. Their quieter neighbors, an exhibition of historical quilts called, “Workt by Hand,” are textiles–dimly lit by necessity, static in their familiar materials, such as thread and cotton, tassels and embroidery–that inevitably produce a softer visual impact.

But both kinds of work are by artists who gleaned leftovers and scraps and handcrafted them into flat sheets that are animated by use: Anatsui’s as rippling, winding sculptures; and the quilters’ as a specific kind of cover, structured by the walls from which they hang or the pieces of furniture over which they are draped.

A quilt’s quality can only be assessed from a close viewing. Durable hand stitching and embroidery create a subtle dimensionality from malleable fabrics. By nature, a quilt is an assemblage of fabric tesserae. Its structural complexity is a close cousin to Anatsui’s minute wires, threading metal ribbons into a chain-link net in Gli (Wall).

The museum describes Anatsui’s work, fabricated from bottle caps and aluminum cans, among other common materials, as “textured hangings that take on radically new shapes with each installation.” That the pieces can be uniquely site-specific at an infinite number of locations is unusual. But the traditional quilters were radical in their own ways.

With the popularity of the Quilts of Gee’s Bend over the last decade, viewers intuit that every quilt is pieced together with a wealth of social data, including undercurrents of labor, domestic activity, and the nebulous (and often meaningless) line diving art and craft. Curator Catherine Morris expressly acknowledges this in the Brooklyn exhibition by incorporating “Hidden Labor” into the title. Hand-stitched objects exude not just charm but dignity, subtle commentaries on participation within exclusionary systems. A collectively-made pictorial quilt from the 1840s sports Freemason imagery in one square, supporting an organization that didn’t allow female members. A whole-cloth toile example with portraits of American presidents was produced long before women were granted the right to vote. While humble examples might be pieced together from household clothing scraps, the presence of quilts at county fairs and over beds emphasizes adaptability and a range of conditions in their use and display over the course of centuries.

On a larger scale, quilts’ associations with humble materials coupled with craftsmanship invite conversations on physical labor and material goods. Art historian Maggie Williams recently reflected on Vik Muniz’s work with the “pickers” of Buenos Ares who sort through trash for items to recycle; she muses over Muniz’s collages and the humanity that emerges from the reuse of throw-away objects into messages and portraits. Williams notes the “essential social and environmental purpose” of gleaners in urban communities, who are often ahead of the activist curve. My thoughts wandered from her examples to Millet’s The Gleaners and Courbet’s The Stonebreakers, casting a wider net over labor and value toward Post-Impressionist social commentary.

Susan Vogel, a scholar of African art, commented to Anatsui in an interview that if he were from Venice, there would be inevitable comparisons between his work and the Byzantine mosaics there. Instead, he is simultaneously African and a participant in the international contemporary art world. His sculptures, reshaped during every installation, are far from the grounded scenes in ancient mosaics. The anticipated noise of clanking pieces, the sharp edges of twisted wires, the unruliness of waves of aluminum discs recall the recent past lives of the appropriated materials.

Quilting is often thought of as women’s work, but its impulse toward collecting and assembling objects and ideas in a logical manner is the driving force behind creativity in many forms. Both exhibitions offer fodder for musings on use and reuse. They confront the roles of display and daily use as attributes with potential to elevate or reinvent objects in their roles as art and craft. Together, these exhibitions highlight the genderlessness of assemblage and expression.

*Both exhibitions are on view at the Brooklyn MuseumGravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui has been extended through August 18, 2013. “Workt by Hand”: Hidden Labor and Historical Quilts is organized by the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art and closes September 15, 2013.
Click here to watch a short video of the installation of El Anatsui’s sculptures in the Brooklyn Museum.

Essay: Temporal Strata

by Paul D'Agostino

This essay was composed ex situ to accompany Brooklyn-based Slag Gallery’s exhibition booth at Volta9 in Basel, Switzerland, during Art Basel 2013. 

A work by Naomi Safron-Hon in Volta9 Basel.

A work by Naomi Safran-Hon in Volta9 Basel.

Working in a range of mixed media practices and to meta-expressive ends now sociological, now environmental, now political, the three artists featured in Volta9 by Brooklyn-based Slag Gallery—Dumitru Gorzo, Hector Dionicio Mendoza, and Naomi Safran-Hon—find common conceptual ground in notions of intersecting, overlapping and materially layered chronologies.

Slag's booth at Volta9 Basel. Left, Dumitru Gorzo. Right, Naomi Safran-Hon. Below, Hector Dio Mendoza.

Slag’s booth at Volta9 Basel. Left, Dumitru Gorzo. Right, Naomi Safran-Hon. Sculpture by Hector Dionicio Mendoza.

Painting atop large prints of color, black and white or ambered photographs of people in either definitively urban or patently rural settings, Gorzo deploys bold colors and energetically sure, candid brushstrokes to create stratified picture planes in which figures portrayed photographically are partially obscured or reconfigured by abstractly painted interlopers, and in which mixed personal nostalgias—at times geographically immediate, at times temporally distant, at times allowing the personal to give way to the societal—feed into and off of one another’s images in uncompromisingly vivacious, profoundly revivified compositions.

Dumitru Gorzo, Gulps, Hiccups and Other Mores, 2013.

Dumitru Gorzo, Gulps, Hiccups and Other Mores, 2013.

Bound to arrayed geographical localities as a result of incorporating found objects into the mix, Mendoza’s sculptures tend ultimately toward the geological. Like the readily legible chapters of time and terrestrial torque in metamorphic rock, the visual divisibilities and material morphings in Mendoza’s creations speak to change over time, environmental and technological alike, and to how one’s sense of self, substance and place might evolve and alter therewith.

Hector Dionicio Mendoza, Nube/Cloud, 2013.

Hector Dionicio Mendoza, Nube/Cloud, 2013.

Sculpturally photographic and photographically sculptural, immediately curious in their delicate muscularity, the works of Safran-Hon are so rich in material and conceptual relief that they appear to cleave away from the dimensions that bind them, or from the frameworks that compositionally bound them. Incorporating deeply tactile photographs of dilapidated homes, peeling walls and domestic desuetude in Wadi Salib, in her hometown Haifa, with the rugged medium of cement and the fragile materiality of lace, the Brooklyn-based artist depicts structural spaces that quake with processes of destruction—that both suffer under the forces of conflict and heave back against them, much like the broader political context imbuing these works with historical relevance.

Slag's booth at Volta9 Basel.

Slag’s booth at Volta9 Basel.

Slag Gallery is located at 56 Bogart Street in Bushwick, Brooklyn. More information about the gallery and its artists at slaggallery.com.

Studio Visit: Rebecca Litt

by A.L. McMichael

Litt_studio1

Rebecca Litt’s studio in Bushwick, Brooklyn. On wall at left, “Intution” (oil on canvas) alongside watercolor and charcoal sketches at right.

This weekend, Rebecca Litt will be among the hundreds of artists in Bushwick who open their studios, inviting the public to breech the permeable boundary into her work space and process of creation. When I visited her there last year, many of her now-finished works were still in progress.

Litt drafts charcoal sketches from memory and imagination, sometimes using a mirror or photos of a space while other spaces that are, in her words, “purely invented.” Her charcoal sketches and their subsequent oil paintings tend to appear in groups. For her, “one painting tends to suggest the next one.” The experience of seeing the works as a series invokes my role as an observer of this curated world. It’s not a hostile environment, but the figures rarely make eye contact with each other or the viewer, and they often seem like interlopers in an empty space.

Litt_studio2

From the “False Fortress” series, “Unraveled” on the wall (center), and “Vacant Lot” on the floor (both oil on canvas), surrounded by sketches.

In the False Fortress series, orange construction netting implies a “loosely narrative” structure. There’s a clear language of symbolism in these works, in the semi-enclosed space created by construction materials, a visual representation of emotional defenses. Litt muses that these are not effective, calling them “permeable barriers.” These “emotional self-portraits” such as Intuition feature brunette women who resemble Litt at a glance. Her work lends itself to psychoanalysis, and it is refreshing for an artist to admit that a work is, to an extent, self-referential, admitting to the insecurities, emotions, and thoughts that are omnipresent in the work. Surrounded by these stories, I revel in the simultaneous unease and delight in being able to empathize with work that is such a personal expression of someone I barely know.

Litt was trained in the Indiana University School of Fine Arts in a department emphasizing figurative, narrative works. But even with the figures she refers to as “characters,” her work hints at abstract underpinnings that are complicated by the introduction of figures in space. It’s as if she has turned surrealism on its head.

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From “Going Nowhere,” Panel 4 back (left) and Panel 1 front (right), both oil on panel and polymer clay.

Although the mixed-media piece is titled Going Nowhere, figures with painted torsos and three-dimensional, polymer clay feet react to their seemingly-heavy extremities with inquisitive and lively gestures. The frieze of two-sized, painted boards allows for interactions and conversations between figures, and it reflects an ideology of feet, of shoes. While Litt chalks up their heaviness to the unsophisticated clay medium, the exaggerated feet with unarticulated toes strike me as protection, a shell for the characters. I ponder my own barefoot toes that can get stumped, stepped on. But these clay, club-like feet are sturdy; they could kick back. In the end, though, they’re still bare, exposed, not really protecting the torsos but supporting them, keeping the figures together and negotiating their entry into a carefully crafted world, even while keeping it at a distance.

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Outside the studio window is a space where any people—whether artists or third-generation residents or new immigrants—are interlopers amongst the industrial, corrugated aluminum and factories and big trucks, people seem strangely biological, malleable. In these works, Litt has captured the vibrant, conflicted identity of the neighborhood at this specific point in its history.

This studio visit took place on Sunday, April 15, 2012. For a list of Rebecca Litt’s current exhibitions and portfolio, visit her website or attend Bushwick Open Studios May 31-June 2, 2013.

Essay: Movimenti fissi e gioie visibili negli oggetti scultorei di Tyrome Tripoli

by Paul D'Agostino

Tyrome Tripoli

Tyrome Tripoli nel suo studio a Bushwick, Brooklyn, aprile 2013.

Più interazioni che reazioni, più risultati che sculture, più integrazioni che interventi, più evoluzioni antropologico-naturali che creazioni di per sé fondamentali, più montaggi iper-spaziali che riciclaggi essenziali: gli oggetti scultorei di Tyrome Tripoli sono fatti e manufatti tramite manufatturazioni lasciate andate, diffuse o perdute, in un certo senso, per poi venire rimontate come incatenamenti a metà progettati, a metà casuali, eppure quasi sempre, e quasi interamente, visibilmente smontabili. Dalle piccole alle grandi alle grossissime, le opere di quest’artista sono più sculture di altre ‘sculture’ che materiali meramente scolpite—opere invariabilmente ed indubbiamente singolari benché insiemi di prodotti e rifiuti altrui spesso assai meno unici. L’armonia organica degli esiti è straordinaria per definizione: avesse la Natura stessa giocattoli, sarebbero forse molto simili.

Artista americano che si nutre creativamente ed esteticamente più delle strade del proprio quartiere a Brooklyn che della propria città di New York City in generale, Tripoli rimane sempre ispirato sia dal suo passato come studente di biologia, arte e storia dell’arte, sia dal suo presente come fabbricante di mobili squisitamente unici—letti, tavolini, scale a spirale e così via, fatti per la maggior parte di ferro, acciaio o bronzo. L’artista prende spunto da tali insegnamenti e da tali attività nella sua opera di scultore e, al contempo, se ne libera. I metalli pesanti e grigiastri usati nei suoi mobili vengono sostituiti da oggettoni e oggettini di plastica o di legno, per la maggior parte, e di colori e forme svariatissimi, beccati per strada qua o là o forse dimenticati nell’angolino del garage o dello studio di un amico.

Tyrome Tripoli

Sculture, sculturine e altri oggetti vari nello studio di Tyrome Tripoli.

Tripoli sceglie colori lucidi e brillanti, pezzi robusti e rotondi, per poi ‘dipingere’ e scolpire con essi senza modificarli, tagliarli o riformarli, e quest’ultimo fatto gli è chiave. I componenti si manifestano nelle sculture così come sono stati trovati, ma gli insiemi che producono, che diventano, sono di sicuro ben diversi: strutture, creature ed architetture improbabili o impossibili che spuntano su dal pavimento o giù dal soffitto—o su dal tetto verso il cielo, come l’opera immancabile che indica e personalizza lo studio-garage dell’artista. Forme riconoscibili come animali o strutture, quindi, ma solo come suggerimenti: ciò che si vede è stranamente familiare—soprattutto quando vi si notano giocattoli posseduti da piccoli—ma anche veramente strano, oggetti curiosi e divertenti che non hanno nome e non ne hanno bisogno. Distillazioni scultoree, ecco, di animazioni—stile anni ‘70 o ‘80, diciamo. Montaggi sintentizzati in una forma sola, in un momento solo, da cartoni animati interi con tutta l’energia, tutto il movimento, tutta la giocosità di tali immaginazioni rimasti in qualche modo viventi e visibili. Il programma così riprogrammato, però, è sempre lo stesso, ed è forse una cosa che tutti scrivono, almeno in testa: un programma immaginato o immaginabile da creazioni potenziali, riorientazioni di cose viste o pigliate—come personaggi, diciamo—strada facendo—come sceneggiature possibili—intorno allo studio o verso casa.

È ben più che possibile, quindi, che la Natura stessa abbia dei giocattoli, e che Tripoli sia fra i suoi fabbricanti. Ciò che tutti e due vorrebbero comunicare, però, è che siamo tutti capaci—in qualche modo, a livelli diversi, anche se solo tramite immaginazioni—di fabbricarli.   

Tyrome Tripoli

Dondolando pure dal soffitto: sculture finite e pezzi potenziali nello studio di Tripoli.

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—  Paul D’Agostino, Ph.D., è artista, scrittore, traduttore e professore che vive e lavora a Brooklyn, New York City.

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