Real to Real

This solo shows celebrates the importance of Italian art -- and Colorado's most accomplished contemporary sculptor.

Over the last century, hundreds of dedicated, masterful artists have worked in Colorado. But while a score of them have achieved genuine international recognition -- on the level of Vance Kirkland, for example -- only a handful made art history.

There's Boardman Robinson, the social realist painter who worked in Colorado Springs in the '30s and '40s, and modernist master Herbert Bayer, who was painting, printing, sculpting and photographing up in Aspen from the '40s right through the '80s, as well as ceramicists Artus Van Briggle, Paul Soldner and Betty Woodman. And, of course, there's John DeAndrea, the hyper-realist sculptor whose work is seen in museums worldwide, including our own Denver Art Museum. "Linda," DeAndrea's acclaimed polyvinyl sculpture of a supine nude woman, demurely draped where necessary, is one of the DAM's best-known works of art, even if it's displayed only for short periods of time because of conservation concerns. "Linda" won't be back out at the DAM until December, but right now, Colorado's most accomplished contemporary sculptor is the subject of an incredible show at Ron Judish Fine Arts, titled simply yet sufficiently John DeAndrea.

DeAndrea was born in 1941 and raised in Denver's now-defunct Little Italy on the city's near-northwest side. "When I was a little kid, my dad commissioned Bill Joseph to create some wall sculptures for his Belmont Restaurant," recalls DeAndrea. "It was the first time I saw a grownup -- a grown man -- who was an artist."

John DeAndrea, "Expulsion II," painted polyvinyl.
John DeAndrea, "Expulsion II," painted polyvinyl.


Through October 28
Ron Judish Fine Arts, 1617 Wazee Street

Joseph, the dean of Denver's modern sculptors, created a trio of repoussé figures for DeAndrea's father, made of copper peened into a wooden form. "My dad had a lot of restaurants over the years, and he decorated every one, but he always brought those copper ladies with him from the Belmont," says DeAndrea. "I have them now, hanging at my house. I love those copper ladies."

DeAndrea, not surprisingly, became interested in art as a child and developed his enduring love of realism early on. "I was in the church the other day where I went when I was growing up, Our Lady of Mount Carmel," he says. "My family has gone there for generations and my mother still goes there all the time. Inside there are all these amazing realistic sculptures from Italy which are painted. They have more to do with what I eventually did as an artist than all the art education I was exposed to."

For DeAndrea, though, Mount Carmel was not the absolute source of his inspiration, but an intrinsic part of the cultural context that's central to his work. "It's about being Italian," he says. "The Italians have been great realists for thousands of years. When I first went to Italy, I suddenly knew why I did what I did, why I liked the foods that I like. I don't think it's genetics, but it goes deeper than what we're taught. Is it possible to expect that after a couple of generations you can reject what you've been for thousands of years?" he asks rhetorically.

DeAndrea received a BFA from the University of Colorado in Boulder in 1965 and then went on to the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. In 1970 he got his big break, a solo show at the O.K. Harris Works of Art gallery in New York, that immediately brought him worldwide fame. His amazingly realistic figural sculptures, complete with meticulously painted skin, real hair and glass eyes, had appeared at just the right time. Their incredibly accurate detailing fit perfectly with the photo-realist movement of the '70s, itself an outgrowth of earlier pop art.

DeAndrea's figural sculptures are quite distinct from those of the late Duane Hanson, the only other sculptor to emerge from the photo-realist movement. "Hanson's sculptures have a social commentary element, while mine are classical figures," DeAndrea points out. Another, more obvious difference is that Hanson's figures are clothed, while DeAndrea's are shamelessly nude. (Although in recent years DeAndrea has also created dressed figures, he says he still prefers to do nudes.)

Despite his success in the contemporary art world, DeAndrea also sees himself at odds with it. "I'm at peace with my own work, but I battle contemporary art," he says. "I not only am not doing what I was taught to do, but I'm doing something that's against what I was taught to do."

DeAndrea's explanation for his super-realistic, fanatically detailed approach posits a fascinating challenge to modernism, and in this sense, his work may be seen as postmodern. "Abstraction is regarded as sophisticated but it's actually primitive, but the modern world privileges the primitive," muses DeAndrea. "Realism is seen to be unsophisticated, or less sophisticated than abstraction, but it's actually a part of an extremely sophisticated tradition based on a refinement of a refinement of a refinement -- from the Greeks to the Romans to the Renaissance Italians." He knows his views put him in a difficult spot, even a no-man's land, because most of the artists who agree with him theoretically aren't contemporary artists, but the sort of neo-traditionalists seen in the current Artists of America show. "But they're interested in artist-made details, and I want to record the God-made details," says DeAndrea, obliquely referring to his life-casting method, in which molds are made from real people.

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