Brooklyn artist Peter Bardazzi doesn’t fit a type. “I’m not just a straight painter in the sense that I just wake up in the morning and think about painting,” he told me in a studio visit this summer. “Art is this huge thing.”
He started with a story about how, as a teacher in the 80s, he became interested in Tatlin’s Tower, a Constructivist kinetic monument which was modelled by Vladimir Tatlin after the Bolshevik Revolution, but never constructed in full scale, due its massive scale and dubious architectural practicality. Wanting to model it himself, Bardazzi picked up a book on computer animation and made a short film. It turned out he was one of the few making computer animation at the time, and he was soon hired to George Lucas’ production team. Having found digital animation too tedious, he now teaches “Lighting for the Moving Image” at FIT. “With these tools, you can keep on making it more perfect or more shiny,” he told me. “But that trip goes absolutely nowhere.”
Many of his paintings appear to start with a Constructivist skeleton, on which he hangs everything from 3D animation, de Kooning, Byzantine portraiture, the films of Kurosawa. Paintings like “The Descent or Marcel Duchamp meets Hieronymus Bosch,” for instance, forges a sort of uber-mechanized version of nude descending a staircase, in Hell. “Tigers Giving Birth in Eden,” a Constructivist-filtered landscape, looks like a stylistic orgy of Japanese characters, Constructivism, anime, and graffiti, taking place in art’s symbolic breeding ground. It’s a fluid exploration that you rarely find in galleries, and even less often on the canvas.
Lately, he’s been interested in film (his favorite genre is the spaghetti western: 1960’s Italian surrealist Westerns inspired by the Samurai films of Akira Kurosawa). He’s started his latest series from a cinematic device in which the dead man comes alive in the final scene and shoots into the camera. Scorcese revived that moment in Goodfellas, from The Great Train Robbery. “Scorcese’s take was that it was a really primitive, but a really sophisticated way of involving the audience,” Bardazzi told me. “It operates in the story, it operates as an experiment, it operates in dragging you into it.” In his version, the dead man manifests in cartoony animal monsters. “They don’t exactly have a resolution,” he said. “They just have that moment.”
As we rummaged through the studio, floral Twombly-esque Constructivism gave way to motorized fragments of Tatlin’s Tower, which became thick, Eastern-styled animal-skinned coils, and then an Expressionist drawing of animals fighting and fucking at a bar. “The Greeks had this concept, the ability to see everything…panatheism,” Peter told me. “I think there’s a desire in our culture to see everything all at once.” He’d been describing how the recent Higgs-Boson discovery had made him think about empty space as filled with energy, but you get the feeling from the paintings, too.