[New Orleans, LA ::: b. 1952 - Queens, NY]
TONY DAGRADI is an internationally recognized jazz performer, artist, composer, author, and educator. For over three decades he has made his home in New Orleans, performing on tenor and soprano saxophone with many of the Crescent City’s celebrated artists. He is most well-known for his work with Astral Project, an adventurous quartet of top New Orleans players dedicated to playing cutting-edge improvisational music. His performing past also includes five years as a member of the internationally acclaimed Carla Bley and appearances and recordings with Bobby McFerrin, Mose Allison, and Nat Adderley.
Since 2015, Tony has been exploring the visual possibilities of altered books. Choosing vintage and antiquarian texts, he carefully cuts through one page at a time utilizing existing images to create a three-dimensional collage or sculpture. The results allow the contents and imagery of long outdated material to be viewed in a manner that is both exciting and thought-provoking.
My lifetime experiences as a composer and performer directly inform 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. Conversely, 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.
Over the last few years, the methodologies I use for my altered book creations have steadily evolved. When I first began, I employed a pure “excavation” process. That is, after sealing the edges, I cut page by page through each book retaining the images that appealed to me and discarding everything else. However, I soon became dissatisfied with this approach and began reserving certain content for later use, positioning each piece when and where I wanted it. (Consider that as you look at a closed book, half of the pages are facing away from you.)
My current body of work represents several new directions for me in terms of design, textures and overall technique. One strategy that I find very gratifying is to fuse several coffee table books or volumes of an encyclopedia set to create one or more large panels. Each of these panels then functions as a “blank canvas” while the images and text come from a different source entirely. All of my framed pieces have been realized through this approach. I have also been experimenting with organic, abstract openings for book covers and the inclusion of “found poetry”.
It is important to note that every piece that I have ever done to this date, regardless of size or style, employs visual elements and text from only one book at a time. Using material from a single source, including eclectic photos and illustrations created and printed in a similar manner, is an obvious organizing factor. Ultimately, by altering and reorganizing content that is often long out of date, 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.