The Ego and the Ecstasy

Sculptor Raffaele Martini Pandozy wages a one-man war to revolutionize Dallas' aesthetic from inside his South Dallas fortress

The sculptor's fortress rises above a South Dallas neighborhood that has long since gone decrepit. His home is an island, surrounded by a sea of busy streets.

It is walled off on three sides by an 8-foot, black metal fence, jagged at the top, and on its fourth side by a brick wall rimmed with coiled razor wire.

From the street, one sees the form of two sculpted human figures, headless and cast in concrete, peering over the top--castaways stranded behind the fence, never to be rescued. Behind them, two metal hands clasp in a perpetual handshake.

The sculptures beckoning from inside are designed to spark curiosity, but the forbidding walls and fences make you think twice about taking a peek. Come close, but not too close. Beyond these barriers are additional layers of security: alarm systems, motion detectors, and cameras. This is a private island.

But the inner surroundings appear much more inviting to the few who have set foot on these shores. Roses and other flowers line a parking lot. You discover that an entire menagerie of sculpted creatures surrounds a two-story, light-brick building nearly invisible from the street.

A large, polished aluminum figure sits at one corner--a stylized angel extending an offering. There are flexible shapes in the yard, woven metal strips that spin and sway in a strong wind. The headless castaways rise on wooden pedestals amid a jungle of weeds and flowers. The clasped hands are in a series of six, enclosed in diamond-shaped metal frames. They were designed to twirl in the wind, but their base has rusted, and they are still.

This is the private sculpture garden of Raffaele Martini Pandozy, a Dallas-based artist whose singular aesthetic is borne partly of seeming egomania, partly of seeming genius. Since 1972, he has made the former Tiferet Israel synagogue at the intersection of Grand Avenue and Good-Latimer and Old South Central expressways his home, studio, and refuge.

The sculptures outside the former sanctuary and the works hanging on the walls inside it are a time line of the sculptor's artistic and intellectual development, he says. Look around and see how ideas develop, how themes are explored, forever changing the artist who made them. The works become more and more abstract the closer they come to the present. Pandozy, who is 59, says it shows his contempt for form.

"I condemn style," Pandozy says, haughtily. By style, he means the form his artwork takes. "Style is not the word to describe art. You have to interpret art. What kind of human value does the artist bring about, expose? What has he been able to find out about life, about nature, about the phenomenon of the universe? The artist is essentially a researcher."

Such pronouncements come easily from Pandozy. He received his doctorate in the philosophy of art education from New York University, producing a three-volume, 1,500-page tome on how people should look at art. The work, which took him six years to complete, undoubtedly caused plenty of late nights for his doctoral advisor.

Pandozy has spent the last 10 years revising his thesis for a similarly weighty book on the subject. It is going to be "the bible of art," he says, matter-of-factly. He is writing this sacred text from the walled environs of his studio in South Dallas.

Pandozy is animated when he describes his ideas, and sips a glass of wine to "help loosen my tongue." He is an average-sized man, with a halo of unruly white hair. He has large sculptor's hands, calloused and thick. His clothes are rumpled but clean, favorites worn again and again for years. This day, his faded yellow shirt shows a faint wine stain near the collar.

He pulls out files--an array of papers, manifestoes, and pamphlets--espousing his labyrinthine theories. Emerging from a maze of rhetoric, he explains that his basic idea is this: The artist shall provide a cultural service to society through art that informs, uplifts, and is--in his words--important.

Perhaps needless to say, Pandozy is certain that his work is important.
"An artist who doesn't try to grow or become conscious of social positions is an artist who is good for nothing," he says, noting that he has paraphrased the French poet Charles Baudelaire.

He doesn't always carry on this way. He also talks about his three children, his life in Italy, and his girlfriend Annette, but saves his more esoteric comments for art and artists. The artist, he says, has become disconnected from the community he was made to serve. What is needed is a reintegration of the arts and artists into everyday life.

Yet this credo is at odds with how Pandozy has lived his own artistic life in Dallas. In this city that he describes as his adopted home since arriving in 1970, he lives in obscurity, a memory in the minds of local artists and a cipher to the surrounding neighborhood.

Yet in New York City and his native Milan, Italy, Pandozy is a respected and successful sculptor who has made a very comfortable living from sales of his artwork. Gallery owners and artists from abroad call him a visionary--a tag that Pandozy readily adopts for himself.

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