For some time now, Tony has been exploring the visual possibilities of altered books. Choosing from vintage encyclopedias and dictionaries, discarded text books, old atlases and graphic novels he carefully cuts through one page at a time to reveal existing images in a three dimensional collage. The results allow the contents and imagery of long outdated material to be viewed in a manner that is both exciting and thought provoking.
Tony is currently represented by Jonathan Ferrara Gallery in New Orleans and Seager/Gray Gallery in Mill Valley, California.
GAMBIT Review: Books Transposed
Tony Dagradi is widely known for his silken modern jazz saxophone playing, a lyricism that reveals his mastery of an instrument with endless potentially rough edges. Less known are his sculptural collages. Featuring whimsical juxtapositions of images that read like improvisational visual riffs, they explore the unexpected relationships between moments in visual time in much the same way jazz musicians explore serendipitous resonances between familiar notes and melodies to create new experiences for the listener.
In these works, Dagradi digs deeply, and quite literally, into old books, reworking their visual contents to reveal the secret worlds they contain. Ships and Snakes is a rhapsodic take on the old European "wanderlust" sensibility, a quest for wonder through exploring the exotica of foreign lands, here depicted via engravings of dinosaur skeletons and Egyptian pyramids, photographs of formidable snakes and flinty explorers, vast oceangoing ships and colorful foreigners. The scene reflects the old European idea of the world as a frontier to be "civilized" by "advanced" Western peoples — a view that now seems quaint.
Induction Motors is a maze of engravings of coils, armatures and archaic mechanisms from the early years of electrification. Looking lost among them is a solitary female figure dutifully tending to a mysteriously imposing mechanical contraption. Her presence is prescient: Then, as now, it is obvious the machines are really in charge.
- D. Eric Bookhardt, Gambit
My decades long career in contemporary jazz directly informs my work as a visual artist. Music, for me, has always had a visual component, with the diverse elements of music suggesting colors, shapes and textures. The juxtaposition of abstract shapes which come together as I work on a book, is very much how I perceive the interplay of melody, harmony and rhythm.
Improvisation is also key to my approach in both genres. Within a jazz ensemble, each player is responsible for an individual part which must support and inspire the other musicians. In the heat of the moment, unexpected phrases or motivic ideas can affect surprising new directions for the collective ensemble. Similarly, the tension and harmony which naturally occurs as I uncover each new image unfailingly impacts the whole and often shifts the form and concept of the emerging composition.
Cutting through each book page by page to expose selected subject matter is primarily a subtractive process. However, I often choose to reserve certain images for later use. This too is comparable to the open-ended conversation on the bandstand, and provides me with greater control over the development of each piece.
I prefer working with vintage books and encyclopedias. The eclectic photos and illustrations represent material that is long out of date, yet offer a fascinating window into our past. Ultimately, I hope to provide a perspective on the transitory nature of what earlier generations understood to be factual, and offer insight into the way ever evolving media has shaped contemporary perspectives.