Issue 158, Spring-Summer 2001
“The main reference for the drawings is Leonardo’s Codex,” Julian LaVerdiere said when I asked him how his drawings correlated to the large, baroque and expensive-to-produce sculptures that will be exhibited this November, in his first major show, in New York City at Deitch Projects. As opposed to the precise and exquisitely lucid drawings, the sculptures often look like quasi-scientific props for mysterious experiments whose findings we will never be privy to. “They’re idea blueprints that relate to my sculptures rather than specific plans for the three-dimensional works. Like Leonardo’s sketches.” LaVerdiere said, “My drawings are both specific and speculative, architectural but fantastic.”
LaVerdiere, at thirty, himself cuts an odd figure, with a puffy slick of tawny white hair. Ruskinian sideburns and a soft, pink face. “You look like a wolf!” the busboy said spontaneously at Park, a fashionable new restaurant in Chelsea, where we met for coffee in early May.
The Codex, a unique and mammoth notebook recently purchased by Bill Gates, includes da Vinci’s prescient renderings of frying machines, and, not surprisingly, hubris is one of LaVerdiere’s frequent subjects. In one of his drawings—sepiatone blueprints of originals in graphite on vellum—LaVerdiere turns the Tower of Babel and the International Space Station into inverted mirrors of one another, both evidencing man’s attempt to build ladders into and out of the infinite. Another depicts various illustrations of laurel wreaths alongside the number one that appears inside a shield on our dollar bills.
“I’m interested in the way symbolism becomes cryptic over time. Most Americans realize that laurel signifies something important, but they don’t know anything about Apollo. Symbols get imported and mixed and matched pastiche-style in order to mystify and control people. It’s all about pomp and circumstance.”
“What would you say to the criticism that your work is theatrical?”
“I’d say that's not a criticism. I think it’s ridiculous to see someone bend a couple of pipe-cleaners and have everyone say it’s genius. As a child I wanted to be a special effects expert in the movie business. I’m a showman. Theater is good. I’m very pro-hubris —it’s all about the bum.”