by Victor M. Cassidy
John Adduci is one of Chicago’s best sculptors, but the public hardly knows his name. He earns his living out of sight—from commissions and private sales. He rarely exhibits in art galleries because dealers would rather show paintings which are easier to sell.
Dad’s Body Shop
Curving forms, energy, movement, and balance are key themes in Adduci’s work, which hovers between abstraction and figuration. His sculptures recall the body; many suggest a human presence. Almost all originate from a narrative of some sort, an idea that sparks his imagination. When ideas come to him at two in the morning, the artist jumps out of bed and makes drawings. He can’t sleep, anyway.
Adduci works mostly in bronze and aluminum at pedestal and plaza scales. Bronze is his favorite material, but it costs three times as much as aluminum so he waits for a commission that pays for it. He never paints his sculptures and may not finish the surface, preferring to regrind a piece when it gets dirty.
The artist has lived with sculptural form since childhood. When he was ten years old, he washed cars at his father’s auto dealership on Chicago’s south side. Later, he worked in the body shop where journeymen taught him welding, metals fabrication, painting–and how to work fast. These experiences decisively influenced his sculptural vision. “My forms are very concentrated and lean toward a purity of line,” he states. “For me, they must be right on.”
My Pi (2010), Adduci’s newest work stands at the corner of Chicago’s North Avenue and Orchard Street. Twelve feet high, it’s one of twenty outdoor pieces in the 2010 Lakefront Sculpture Exhibit (LSE), which will be up until mid-2011 in Chicago’s Lincoln Park and Lakeview neighborhoods. Sculptors all want to be in the LSE because it generates sustained publicity, which leads to commissions and sales.
My Pi recalls the Greek letter that we remember from geometry class. It’s typical Adduci. Welded together from aluminum sheet, it has a wire brushed surface that captures the light. My Pi’s curved legs, tilted top, and precarious balance make it look ready to step off its platform and take a jaunt through the neighborhood.
“All the Action!”
My Pi seems almost to move. “Look at all the action in my work!” Adduci exclaims. “I put sculpture into motion without making it kinetic.” Acknowledging a debt to Boccioni, the Italian Futurist, he adds: “I’ve never met a circle—or a curve—that I didn’t like.” Curves and spirals in his sculptures recall carnival rides, the rib cage, and the spine as they draw our eye all over the piece. Swoops and flutters look like flying limbs or garments blowing in the wind. Exaggerated backward bends make us laugh.
Another recent sculpture is Whip It (2009), a 12-ft.-high bronze that Adduci made on commission for a park in Altoona, Manitoba, Canada. Full of extravagant curves, Whip It “suggests high energy, looks like a hockey player,” the artist says. “People play hockey up in Manitoba,” he adds. “They love this piece—all that spinning around, movement, flailing arms and legs.” As he was working on Whip It, Adduci surfed the Internet for images of hockey players and even watched a game.
Whip It is not just one sculpture but several, depending on where you view it from. “I want surprises when I walk around the piece,” Adduci says. “I want to see something new, not just the back side.” To get these effects, he starts his sculptures with drawings and then constructs a metal model, which he tinkers with, often for weeks, turning it around and around to see it from different angles. (“I’ve been accused of being obsessive-compulsive,” the artist confesses.) As he builds the full-sized piece, he follows this same procedure but makes smaller adjustments.
Sculptures in Families
We might call Whip It the son of Yikes (2000), a 15-ft.-high bronze. Basically an elaborate X shape, Yikes could be a person who’s so completely flabbergasted by something that his arms and legs are splayed out and whose trunk is curved back in surprise. Adduci suggests a less literal reading. “The things sticking out from the sides of Yikes could be arms or just gesture,” he states. The commission for Whip It resulted when the client saw Yikes and wanted something in the same vein. “Those sculptures,” says the artist, “become like a family or genre of pieces that have the essence of figurativeness to them.”
Adduci’s “Yin and Yang” sculptures, a second family, are more abstract with energy going in opposite directions. An example is the 24-ft.-high bronze and stainless steel Antipode (2000) on the University of Illinois Circle campus, a bowl-like profile leaning backward on its base with flat extensions on both ends and thick tendril-like forms emerging from them. In Antipode, energy goes diagonally up and down, from the past to the future, the artist says.
“My idea came from when I was looking at the site before they rebuilt the UIC Student Center,” Adduci states. “You could still see the depressions of the original foundations of the homes that used to be there on Halsted Street right by Hull House. My dad grew up there. That could have been his empty lot.” Thus, in the Antipode narrative, the past is the demolished house and the future is the campus.
Walking the Plank
Adduci has fond childhood memories of pirate books with Howard Pyle illustrations and he especially remembers the picture of a man walking the plank. A sword at the base of the victim’s back pushes him toward the water and the sharks. To keep his balance and survive a few moments longer, he spreads his arms wide and stretches his chest as far forward as he can.
In OhBelisk (2002), Adduci applies this exaggerated posture to a monumental form with hilarious results. According to him, an obelisk is “the most stoic of forms and I said: ‘Well let’s bend him over and see what it looks like!’ With the obelisk, you couldn’t ask for a simpler shape—and to see it come alive was thrilling.”
John Adduci has been working for a long time now and his enthusiasm for sculpture remains undiminished. “I still physically like the action of working,” he says. “I love wrestling with the metal, climbing up the ladders, and stuff like that. It makes me feel good.”