auguste garufi
Auguste Garufi

Auguste Garufi's work makes ordinary space sacred. Anyone who sees his sculptures, paintings, bas-reliefs or sketches will immediately sense this. His studio is vast, bare and sunlight-filled; it floats like a cathedral tucked near the boatyards of Brooklyn. Auguste Garufi lived for many years in a small city in upstate New York, Binghamton, located halfway between nowhere and New York City. There he began to take his art seriously, to play with possibilities, and there too some early themes emerged—birds, flowers, faces, hands. He has been quoted as saying that his first impulse toward art came from wanting to capture the blueness of the blue sky.

His work vaunts skyward, while still remaining close to the earth. One would not be surprised to find some of his work hidden in a cave, thousands of years old, and at the same time a modern sensibility questions each surface and line. It is simple but never simplistic, full of feeling and never for an instant sentimental. Some of his figures are tragic; others radiate simple joy, luminous yellow-ness, bright peaches, burnt golds. The paintings, the watercolors in particular, have great, immediate appeal, but beneath even the simplest vase of a single iris lies "thoughts that do lie too deep for tears," as Wordsworth once wrote. The human faces he paints are round and dreamy. They have a classic, almost an ancient look. Lined up, facing the ceiling in his Brooklyn studio, they look like rows of dead saints facing heaven. Even his sculptured hands, which he arranges in rows, like armies, or in looser groups, like pilgrims, have a prayerful look. They are made of a polymer substance and flecked gorgeously with gold—Garufi is always inventing new techniques, new substances, and then again inventing new ways to use techniques and substances—the hands literally glow in the dark. If there is any light near the hand at all, even at midnight, it will catch it and hold it. Sometimes I find my way to the refrigerator by the light of one ghostly and beautiful shining Garufi hand.

Auguste's work speaks to the world, and to the history of the world—some of his figures remind one painfully of the biblical Slaughter of Innocents, as well as historical and more recent murders, while others are timelessly beautiful and joyful. His work speaks also to itself, in the sense that one work informs the next in a subtle way; does not progress in a strictly linear fashion. Rather it spirals and loops, reconsiders a theme in a new light and therefore moves forward elliptically. Auguste has said that one piece of work influences another, the way it stands in the studio or catches the light may trigger a response, or an idea long-mulled-over may suddenly surface and find expression in a wholly new medium. Therefore his work is very much alive and dynamic, always moving, always changing.

His work honors the sacred in the mundane—bird bones and feathers, fruit and figures. His landscapes lack the frivolity of modern-day conveniences. You won't find cars, trucks, telephones, typewriters or even buildings in most of his work. It is pure and elemental, like the artist, who for many years possessed neither car nor telephone. Garufi is an anomaly among American artists—he is a true original. His work has gorgeous pigments, and delicate washes. It is too abstract for the new realists, and far too real for the new expressionists and post-expressionists. Garufi is untroubled and untainted by isms. His work extends into the space between God's hand and Adam in the famous painting—the space of blue sky between.

Liz Rosenberg