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