Allusions to the ancient world

ArtReview

January 12, 2004|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

The stuff of Dimitri Hadzi's sculpture, on view at C. Grimaldis Gallery through Saturday, has undergone a curious and surprising evolution in recent years.

In his last solo show at Grimaldis, in 2001, the artist presented a series of modestly scaled abstract pieces that evoked the energy of ancient religious rites and Greek mythology.

Rather than illustrating the ancient stories, these works recalled their monumental gravitas through carefully worked surfaces that clearly displayed the mark of the artist's own hand on such time-honored sculptural materials as stone and bronze.

In the present show, however, most of the works are ceramic - wood-fired stoneware pieces to which not even glazes have been applied. Instead, the artist treats different parts of the pieces with chemicals which, when the piece is fired, draw minerals in the clay to the surface.

The colors of the finished sculpture, a rich orange-ochre with black markings, are thus the natural hues of the clay's mineral content when heated.

As in his earlier work, Hadzi alludes to figures and incidents from myth and legend in the titles of his pieces, which bear names such as "Danae," "Daphne" and "Aeas' Shield."

Danae was the mother of the hero Perseus, who gave birth after Zeus visited her in the form of a shower of gold that poured into her lap. Daphne was a nymph who turned into a laurel tree to escape the amorous attentions of Apollo.

Aeas is the Greek name of the Trojan War hero Ajax, who killed himself out of jealousy when the armor of a fallen foe was awarded not to him but to another warrior.

Like the myths recalled in their titles, Hadzi's sculptures are metaphors for powerful unconscious drives and unfulfilled desires. They have the archaic aura of Bronze-Age weapons and armor fashioned from metal, stone and the hides of wild animals.

Almost paradoxically, these are also the qualities that identify Hadzi with the great tradition of modernist art, whose origins go back to European artists' first encounters with the non-Western painting and sculpture of Asia, Africa and Oceania which began in the late 19th century.

Rodin, Picasso, Brancusi and Henry Moore were all artists who in one way or another drew inspiration from so-called "primitive" art, and Hadzi cites them all as major influences on his own work.

But in his work, Hadzi re-imagines Greek antiquity - usually celebrated as the birthplace of "classical" art and culture and the unique gift of Western civilization to the world - as itself part of humanity's "primitive" heritage as well.

The primal passions and irrational drives that motivate human behavior are embodied not in terms of the "savage" artifacts of non-Western peoples, but in the highly stylized forms of archaic Greek art and in the Homeric legends that predate "classical" antiquity by nearly 400 years.

He reunites Western art with its primitive heritage at its source in Greek antiquity. In doing so, he transforms that remote past from a unique, historically inexplicable singularity (the "miracle" of classical Greece was long considered almost an act of divine intervention) to part of an evolutionary continuum of human development.

C. Grimaldis Gallery, at 523 N. Charles St., is open Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and by appointment. Call 410-539-1080.

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