Nick Della Penna: Revealing the Primordial Gene

Nick Della Penna: Revealing the Primordial Gene

First published: Winter 2016

“Wow, your father’s crazy.” This is what I hear sometimes after people have seen what he’s doing on his four acres in upstate New York. They say it in a playful yet concerned way, as if what he’s doing in not “OK”. Most people are impressed and enchanted by all the stone, stacked in various vertical ways, the mosaics attached, the random demonic sculptures in crevices or on top of pedestals. Some people, though, get agitated by its sheer purposelessness. They seem to go out of their way to tell me that my father is wasting his time. “What is this for?”, “Why is he doing this?”, they will ask. These, of course, are rhetorical questions, and the commentator will proceed to tell me (in a subtle way) how pointless it all is.

 


My father collects the stones, which weigh about 100 to 150 pounds, from streams and rivers in the surrounding area. He rolls, hoists and pulls them, one at a time, to the place in the puzzle in which they fit. It could take anywhere from a few hours to a few days to get the stone to where it was meant to be. It’s a building plan only he knows. The process is one of moving giant rosary beads. The composition is by improvisation and intuition.

My friend, Wade Schuman (a fairly successful painter/musician in New York City), offered his unsolicited analysis on my fathers stone-moving compulsion. He says genetic programming compels him build his structures, a hidden primordial gene that has activated in him. It’s not a decision he has made of free will; rather, it’s like insects or birds building structures whether they are needed or not.

There seems to be no pattern to the location or size of each stone structure he builds. Most are river rocks, some are brick and some are cement pillars. The odd thing to me is that he has obscured them all from view by planting trees around them, encircling it all with a pine tree fortress. It’s this secretive aspect that makes me think my friends “genetic” theory is correct. His single-minded obsession is beyond “art”; no galleries have been contacted, no publicists have been hired, no one has been invited to see and no wine has been offered.
If it’s not biology that is compelling him, I sometimes think it may be religion (but don’t tell him that): an offering or a sacrifice; a private Easter Island or Stonehenge. On the other hand, it could be punishment: the punishment of Sisyphus, the torment of Jesus. Then, sometimes I think it’s pure defiance, the way Ahab would defy god. And this is my fear: that it may destroy him, and thus redefine my own legacy and that of my sons.

 

This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #92