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Boaz Vaadia Sculptures
"I work with nature as an equal partner. . . That's still the strongest thing I deal with today, that primal connection of man to earth. It's in the materials I use, the environments I make and the way I work."
- Boaz Vaadia.
Boaz Vaadia's work can be seen in museums and public spaces worldwide.
In New York City, the most prominent of many sites is the entrance to the residential tower at the Time Warner Center. Boaz creates his sculptures in bolted and glued layers of slate and bluestone, materials used to build sidewalks, roofs and windowsills that he began salvaging from construction sites in Manhattan’s SoHo district, where he had his first studio many years ago.
The materials themselves, which are associated with humanity’s need for shelter and community, convey meaning for Vaadia. Layering is also an important metaphor for him because of its relationship to both man and nature. “That is how some stone is formed, from layers of sedimentary deposits over millions of years,” he says “The layers also represent a person’s growth over time, which happens in layers of understanding.”
The layers also symbolize Vaadia’s own artistic evolution. He began his career at age 14, having first studied at an art school in Tel Aviv and then later at Manhattan’s Pratt Institute and the Brooklyn Museum Art School, creating abstract sculptures in stone, wood and leather that were inspired by tribal art and his fascination with sacred artifacts. But it wasn’t until 1984, after several critically acclaimed New York gallery exhibitions of his abstract work, that he began to view stone differently. I suddenly understood the layers in the stone and realized that I could create something entirely new using this concept,” says Vaadia, who traces his respect for nature and natural materials to having grown up on a farm in Israel. “I had tried to work with figures before, but it felt too derivative. Then, I saw that I could reinterpret the human figure in a way that hadn’t been done before. I surrendered to the stone.”
His sculptures morphed yet again after he moved to his Williamsburg studio in 1989 where he became enamored by huge boulders that had been unearthed at a nearby construction site. So interested did he become in them that he bought a forklift and filled his studio with them. One afternoon, he invited a few construction workers inside for lunch and was intrigued by their instinctive attraction to the boulders and how they positioned themselves on and around them. He then began introducing the boulders into his sculptures, experimenting further with formal relationships between figures and, of course, the primal human connection to stone.
Above all, it is the universality of the human experience that Vaadia seeks to distill in his art. His anonymous, featureless beings exude a serene timelessness evocative of ancient Egyptian and pre-Columbian sculpture, which Vaadia cites among his inspirations, along with such sculptors as Michelangelo, Auguste Rodin, Isamu Noguchi and Henry Moore, all of whom he credits with advancing the figural tradition through innovative explorations of form and media. Yet despite the reassuring solidity, his figures paradoxically evoke impermanence, forcing us to contemplate the awesome disparity between the human life span and the enduring quality of stone. And despite all their ancient associations, they are undeniably contemporary, recalling three-dimensional computer imagery, the cross-sections of a CAT scan or the futuristic people depicted on public signage.
Although Vaadia’s exploration of the human figure may ally him with such sculptors as Kiki Smith, Jonathan Borofsky, Tony Cragg and Antony Gormley, he occupies a category of his own, beyond purely conceptual and representational idioms. Staying true to his own quest for expansion while pushing the boundaries of his medium, his latest works are a series of layered slate and bluestone busts that are hazily defined portraits of friends and family members, who served as models and for whom the sculptures are named. Unlike the busts, his large stone figures are not based on specific individuals. The entire sculpture is in my head and hands before I pick up the chisel,” he explains of his process. Yet his figures also carry typical Israeli or Biblical names in a whimsical melding of the personal and universal.
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