First published: Winter 2004
Isaiah Zagar is rubbing furiously at the grout. Since 5:30 this steamy summer morning he has been up to his elbows in pasty crimson grout: mixing and pouring, applying, scraping, chipping, making walls ring with a staccato sandpaper sounding ‘chuusch… chuusch… chuusch’ as he smooths cement around Oaxacan pottery fragments, gleaming bits of mirror, luminous glass bottles, overfired, out of shape tile seconds (‘But look how magical they are!’), as well as a smorgasbord of ceramic creations produced by the legion of Indian, Peruvian, Ecuadorian and Mexican artisans he calls friends. Tiles, shards, and mirrors weave and spiral through the sea of coloured grout in patterns that seem the sculptural equivalent of a whirling dervish’s dance.
‘The 20th century is stuck on this idea of form!’ Zagar bellows, reflecting on the artistic straightjacket he has escaped. ‘But to be stuck in that thing called form is to be living in the death mask. Form doesn’t happen but at the bequest of ENERGY!’
Zagar knows energy. This entryway wall, a huge expenditure for most, is but another pebble in the sand for him. Today he chips away at a hallway on South Street; next week he will attack the stairwell; next month the exterior; until finally this tireless mason/artist has covered one more three-story brick building/canvas – inside and out – transforming it into an extraordinary ceramic and glass environment.