The histories of jazz and graphic art aren’t similar, but the two come together in the work of Tony Dagradi. Best known as the founder of the group Astral Project, Dagradi's 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.
It’s “classical” because you can hear the history of modern jazz reborn in sleek new forms. Dagradi brings a similar sense of context to the 44 book sculptures in his “Diffusion” show at Jonathan Ferrara Gallery. "The juxtaposition of abstract shapes... is very much how I perceive the interplay of melody, harmony and rhythm,” Dagradi says.
Modern jazz and comic book superheroes both rose to prominence in midcentury America, so Dagradi's new series based on the superheroes of his 1950s childhood seems 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” (pictured), the flamboyant superhero framed in a vintage book leaps out from a supporting cast of characters packed tightly into the composition. All emote, grunt and beam dramatic expressions 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 superhuman feats.
What links this collage sculpture with others based on old illustrations is the sense of wonder they convey of a world brimming with mysteriously exotic people and creatures. In “Tea Ceremony,” another collage framed within a vintage 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 multitudes of people and fantastic creatures as seen through the vintage cultural vision of Western eyes. - D. Eric Bookhardt, The Advocate 2019