The Ego and the Ecstasy

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

His isolation from the South Dallas community around him is symbolized by the elaborate security measures on his tiny island. He hardly ventures into the neighborhood. The Pandozy-designed fence that surrounds his home is bulletproof, forged from one-eighth-inch-thick steel. The jagged top isn't merely decorative. Each point has been sharpened to a razor's edge, capable of inflicting a serious wound to intruders. A buzzer or gate opener are the only ways inside.

Pandozy makes no apology for the fortifications. Indeed, he is rather proud of them. In Italy, he says, you always see things like this. He points to the security cameras at the corners of the building. While he claims he isn't fearful of his neighborhood, he says he doesn't believe in taking chances. Besides, you can't be too careful. Once, a police car on a high-speed chase crashed into his fence, destroying one of his intricate sculptures.

But a check outside these walls reveals that Pandozy also is isolated from the artistic community of which he speaks. Mention his name to local sculptors or gallery owners, and you'll get either a look of befuddlement or one of surprise and nostalgia. "Is he still around?" many ask.

Jealousy and suspicion wall him away from the artists here, Pandozy says. His ideas are complex and inclusive, while Dallas is parochial and simple. People didn't understand what he was trying to show them back when he was trying to show them something. He is a victim of his own advanced ideas, he says.

"I am a complex artist," he says, without a trace of irony. "I am a copy of nobody."

Many Dallas artists say it wasn't his ideas but his ego that kept him on the margins of the local scene. Pandozy was brash and uncompromising when it came to touting his own theories. In Dallas, a city that prefers gentle cajoling to coarse wheedling, his style may have grated.

"I think he is flaky and arrogant," says a director of a university gallery who asked not to be named. "He had a reputation as an operator."

These artists also point out that Pandozy hasn't been a significant "force" in the Dallas art scene since the late 1970s.

Yet Pandozy says he has few regrets about how his life has turned out in Dallas. He has been true to his own spirit, true to his destiny. Some day, when he is gone, people will comprehend.

"It is going to take years for people to understand," he says expansively. "Maybe I will be dead 100 years before they actually discover it. I will leave behind a lot of work unsold and unshown. I will leave behind a lot of ideas unread, and books unpublished."

Pandozy acknowledges that his work is hard to understand. It is meant to be so, because he wants to force people to think.

"My work is difficult," he says. "My work has become a criticism of criticism--sort of a self-reflection of art. It's just like you look in the mirror and ask yourself, 'What is wrong with me?'"

He is out to change the way we look at art, he says. He will accomplish this through his revised dissertation. Fusing history, philosophy, sociology, and literature, Pandozy comes to the conclusion that the way we look at art is rooted in preconceived notions about either the artist or the kind of art produced. As a result, the work's original intent is lost.

Pandozy recalls an incident in which he saw a beginner's art group looking at one of Jackson Pollock's paintings. The teacher asked the students what they saw in the work. Pandozy grimaces. The point of Pollock's paintings wasn't to see some house or tree or bull in the drippings, he says. It was to show that order and visual ideas were being destroyed.

"There is a context that you should read in the art," he explains. "You can't read it in another context. It's just like taking the whole development of thoughts and ideas and throwing them in a dumpster."

The loss of historical context has been accompanied by the loss of the essential importance of art, he continues. Because of this loss, art no longer is essential in society. It is not integrated into education or politics or entertainment.

"Therefore, artists are totally disconnected from the world," he explains. "That is why, when one thinks of an artist, you always think of someone kind of weirdo who does his own thing."

This, of course, is exactly how people view Pandozy. In his South Dallas neighborhood, few people know who he is, though they find the presence of his fortress slightly strange.

"I'm not sure what that is," says Robbye Jackson, looking at Pandozy's island. She lives in a house in a quiet neighborhood behind the building. "I thought it had something to do with nuns."

When told that the house belongs to an artist, she shakes her head. "Is he black?"

These days, Pandozy lives only part-time in his fortress, dividing his time between Dallas and studios in New York City and Milan. When he's in town, he sees only the other tenants--all artists--who share his building in self-contained units, and a handful of friends. Pandozy sees no contradiction in this, only misunderstanding.

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