Tony Orrico is a visual artist, performer, and choreographer. He’s created his own unique style of “endurance drawings” that draw upon his years of experience as a dancer. These “Penwald Drawings” have been presented and exhibited internationally, attracting attention from prominent collectors and institutions. Here, he discusses his mesmerizing process as you, the viewer, get to watch him work.
Orrico presents the first public performance of his 8 circles drawing from his Penwald Series at the National Academy of Sciences, Keck Center in Spring 2010. Film by Becky Beamer (www.beckybeamer.com)
graphite on paper
240 x 240 inches
The following is an article reposted from the Barcelona Metropolitan.
Tell me a little bit about your background – how did you get started, what training have you had in either art or dance?
I’m in the mood to elaborate on this one- please don’t mind, take what you wish…
My mother’s father is a painter. He’s 94 now, living with Alzheimer’s, and I had the great pleasure of painting side by side with him just weeks ago, just as we did only once in the past. I was very young, and he taught me how to paint flowers. My memory of that day is very vivid, a moment I deem to be the true conception of my creativity. I was fascinated with the studio space he had set up in his apartment. I asked my parents if I could have my own art room and they proved to be listening. When I was eight, we moved from an apartment to rent a house from my uncle. My father and I shared the boiler room in the basement, a bench for his tools and crafts, and a desk for my creations.
I began to take private lessons throughout my adolescence from a retired woman in our community. I began with charcoal drawing, then pastels, pen and ink and finally oil painting.
My girlfriend at college was a dancer and I was very interested in her studies. During my first year of school, I was in a night class and I overheard someone say that there was an audition in the dance department. I literally walked out of the class without thought. By the time I found the building, the audition was finished but the faculty asked me to just improvise. With my street clothes on, I did exactly that, and the next day I was cast in two dances, untrained. I began taking a few classes in my second year and by the second semester had received a full tuition waiver for my remaining years. This was god sent, as I was affording school by myself- it filled me with a great sense of personal power and sudden burst of creativity. I loved choreographing, and I was also continuing to paint- they felt the same.
My last semester of graduate school, I was interested in auditioning to attend the American Dance Festival and seek out New York based choreographers. I received a phone a few days after my audition, but not to attend the summer school. It was Shen Wei, and through a series of contacts, he was interested in me joining his company. I left graduate school early and took the job.
You mix the mediums of visual art and dance—how, for you, are the two disciplines related?
It is one sight; how I see and interpret movement looks the same to me as how I interpret my ideas mechanically from my hands. Point, line, plane, intersection, shape, color, texture, pattern, design, architecture, etc. I am not looking at these disciplines separately right now. I am deriving at these drawings either through movement improvisations or sketching in my journal.
Your most recent piece – Penwald – Unison Symmetry Standing is a visually arresting sight, can you tell me a little about the journey from original idea to execution?
This was my fourth drawing and I was eager to start elaborating on how I could fill the space within my arm span. Simultaneously, I wanted to challenge my hand dominance and further equalize tensions. I noticed that my right hand seemed to carry a sense of choice making or navigational dominance. I practiced my first circle on my kitchen wall in Brooklyn with two markers, switching between the lead hand while maintaining bilateral unison and symmetrical (spontaneous) motion. Then, I began to discover what the sensation of dual dominance felt like; what if no hand was making choices? From there, I considered variable into the direction of freeing the stabilization of certain joints to create greater range beyond the span of my arms. This collection of research lived on my kitchen walls for many months. I knew I wanted to create this drawing for a determined duration of time in three parts, three circles. I photographed my mock up and photoshopped an image of it to show potential venues. I produced my center circle (dual dominance, bending of knees and rising to toes) in two places, and nearly a year later, I produced an installation of all three circles at Dance Theater Workshop. The left circle is right hand dominant, no other variables. The right circle is left hand dominant, with no variables as well. Each circle is four hours long, over the course three consecutive days.
How do you prepare for the Penwald events?
Several of the drawings require measuring out the starting point by leaving behind my graphite sticks in a marked position. Sometimes this requires careful measuring both with a measuring tape and my physical body. For the longer duration drawings, I don’t eat or drink for at least an hour and half before the performance. I like to condition my body for about an hour before performance and center myself. I have system of personal techniques I developed that I cycle through. I use the rest room in the remaining minutes and then enter. I like to fill my heart with gratitude and love before I perform.
I watched your piece Sunken Ship where you used the alarm tones of the audience’s mobile phones, how much does sound play a part in your work?
Sunken Ship was a personal improvisation score, masked by the joy of participation. Ingenuity was hiding in the room, and I wanted to confuse the audience’s interpretation of devices and their context. The ship for me was dance, and the inflated dream and overturned path. I am interested in subtle ways to orchestrate sound from within performance, but also how sound and rhythm can earn the attention of the viewer, or not. I begin my live drawings without much warning and witness the evolution of the sound in the space. In shamanic drumming, I like how the rhythm has an organic pace, the cycles become dense and hypnotic, and I can begin to sense slight variations and even silences. Reason to stay engaged.
You previously worked with the Shen Wei Dance Arts and the Trisha Brown Dance Company how much does their interdisciplinary approaches inform your work?
I am proud of my professional heritage. I feel fortunate to have studied with two choreographers who have visual art practices, and compose in terms of line, quality, form, precision and play (in any dimension). I attribute much of my curiosities to these experiences, yet you recognize what your learning as if you’ve all ready been there, when the information satisfies your same intrigue and brings you joy. It is the dialog between these experiences that further fascinates me, bringing to surface dichotomies such as proximal and distal initiation, continuous and dynamic phrasing, centrifugal force and cantilevering, control and release, the individual and the collective.
Based in New York, how is your work received in different places – are there certain places that seem to ‘get’ it more than others?
It seems that the audience can enter this work with ease because it displays the body in course and the experience is captured in some sense. The intensity of it, what I or the audience has endured can be traced and proven. The artifact resonates for them, referencing images of nature, biology, geometry, anatomy. I think they can sense how they are accidents even to me. These themes translate. So far, they are not political, social, abstracted, narrative. I am enjoying these performances because the audience provides so much energy during them.
Have you performed in Barcelona before?
I have only visited, and I am delighted to be here performing.
What’s next for you?
I am preparing for my first solo exhibition of my drawings. It will take place May 21- July 9 at Shoshana Wayne Gallery in Santa Monica, CA. I am also collaborating with choreographer John Jasperse on a design for Canyon, to premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in November, 2011.