The Ego and the Ecstasy

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

"I am a tremendously advanced artist. I am beyond my time, 50 years, at least," he says, without explaining how he came to that specific figure. "That has been my problem. I envision it as a much higher standard, not in terms of production, but in terms of presence and existence. I am controversial."

These bold statements are not without supporters.
Harry S. Parker, director of the Dallas Museum of Art from 1973 to 1987, says that Pandozy's work brings an intensity and an intellect that is often hard to grasp.

"While not always comprehending the philosophical base of his speculation, I have recognized the intensity and seriousness of his efforts," Parker wrote in a letter of recommendation for a National Endowment for the Arts grant proposal that Pandozy submitted nearly a decade ago. (He didn't receive the grant.)

"Some of his work is quite minimal," says Parker, who is now director of the Fine Arts Museum in San Francisco. "It was not representational work and required a certain sophistication to it."

Renato Danese, former director of the Pace Gallery in Manhattan, says the beauty of Pandozy's work is that it is simple, yet works on a variety of levels artistically and intellectually.

"Its accessibility does not compromise it," says Danese, who now owns his own gallery. "Sometimes when a work is too accessible, it loses its edge and importance. Art shouldn't look like art. It needs that rigor and edge. [Pandozy] doesn't compromise the density of his work."

Pandozy himself says he runs up against the insularity of Dallas' art scene--which he calls provincial, lacking in worldliness.

"The artist has to travel, otherwise you will keep painting your Texas landscapes," he says.

There is a bit of irony in that declaration. Pandozy admits he hasn't been to a gallery show in Dallas in years. He doesn't particularly like the galleries. They are "all minor, minor, minor things. They always show the same local things."

Pandozy, in contrast to the homegrown artistic talents, was born in Rome 59 years ago and was classically trained as an artist. Growing up, he lived in a house where individuality was encouraged and politics was part of normal conversation. His father was an anti-fascist, whom Pandozy says was jailed for his beliefs. His mother smuggled Pandozy and his sister out of Rome during the bombings of World War II by sending them to an agricultural boarding school.

Pandozy created his first sculpture fairly late in life, he says. He was 16, and made a mask of his face in plaster as he lay in a bathtub. Once the plaster set, he set about making the face look more like he saw himself--scarred and flawed.

Sculpture is the best way for him to express what he sees in his world, Pandozy says.

"I always remember looking at a painting and thinking that it's flat, you know, too illusory," he says. "I was never a lover of illusion. I am a lover of reality. I like to be shocked by reality. Sculpture is real. You don't have to switch yourself into a dreamlike fantasy to look at it."

For his own sculptures, Pandozy takes seemingly ordinary materials, like plaster or dirt, and elaborately styles them. For the past few years, Pandozy has made earthwork sculptures, using dirt as the main material. He has crafted metal frames and covered them with a blend of epoxy and tan soil; they look something like mud blankets.

"I am not going to interpret the material; the material has to represent what I want," he says. "Since my ideas are in perfect harmony with the times...I thought about earth as the prime, basic medium."

Pandozy hasn't always lived the hermit's life in Dallas. When he first arrived here from New York in 1970 with his wife and baby son, he says he did everything he could to become part of the local scene.

Dallas was his wife's hometown, and her parents encouraged the couple to come here after their attempts to live the artist's life in Woodstock, New York, didn't work out. Here, the couple found an emerging art scene. Things were still energetic and new. Artists were cutting their teeth on innovative projects, and fledgling galleries supported their works, says Patricia Margolin, who would later divorce Pandozy.

Pandozy wanted a studio and a foundry; he found his South Dallas studio through a real-estate agent. The building was a gutted mess, with squatters living inside. But he could squint his eyes and see its potential. The couple sank thousands of dollars into refurbishing the former synagogue, and used it as a home and work space.

The studio evolved into a promotional center for the arts, Margolin recalls. The couple began to host monthly salons where artists and activists met.

"I felt like the Gertrude Stein of Dallas," she says. "We had people from ex-offenders to doctors show up at every performance."

Weekly events at the studio featured African dance troops and appearances by civil-rights leaders, as well as artists and performers. Margolin never felt threatened by the neighborhood.

At the time, Pandozy was busy making inroads into the Dallas art community. He attended events at local galleries, had his work shown, and even managed to get a one-man show at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, the DMA's predecessor. Back then, the museum featured exhibits by local artists that were almost always sparsely attended.

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