DECEMBER 6, 2001-JANUARY 5, 2002


Tod Pardon - Dexter Guy: Motion and Light (sculpture)

The second group of brooches features variations on a being whose crescent-shaped, bug-eyed head is as big as its squarish body, joined by a wispy metal neck. The relatively large field of inlay allows Pardon to gleefully explore organic patterns of dots, shapes, and lines, often several in the same piece, as in Man Eating Moon Brooch—an interest no doubt influenced by his mother, fiber artist Eunice Pardon. The third style of brooches resemble two-inch-square snapshots which, like the Peas Brooch, are replete with patterns, or include one or more figures in a crude narrative, like studies for the elaborate pendants around the corner.

The pendants on exhibit were the most satisfying works. These tight compositions inlaid with one or two creatures on fields of pattern, wrought in Pardon's electric hues of tangerine, aqua, lime, and cherry, as in Desert Fruit Pendant, reveal his training and history as a painter. If his brooches recall prehistoric fossils, the pendants resemble cave paintings: primitive stories that need no explanation across peoples, borders, and time.

Pardon's quirky paintings show his creative wheels turning with a freedom the labor-intensive jewelry does not allow. He's essentially recycled the burn marks on his soldering pad into new vignettes by adorning the leavings of smoke and color with bits of oil stick, gold, and glass beads. The creatures that emerge seem like tiny descendants of Michelangelo's Slaves: trapped in the medium, just waiting to be released.

The sculptures are not as successful. In Dexter Guy Pardon: The Zeitgeist and the Zeeman Effect, one of Pardon's creatures sits atop a rough-hewn wood box that encases fuzzy footage of his son like a television. It's too jarring, the scale is awkward, and the video doesn't hold your attention: it seems more the creation of a proud father than a purposeful artist.

A large display-only work titled 84 Steps: It's the Tail of the Kite that Makes It Fly, is the decoder ring to Pardon's subconscious. Eighty-four digital photographs of "personal memory triggers," including expired passports, snapshots of his wife, son, and parents on boats and beaches, and more far flung images of African shields and beadwork, TinTin, or a vivid scarf or flower are rearranged and added to each time the work is mounted. It's almost too intensely personal, but it reveals Pardon's jewelry to be much more than a whim: in his mind, objects, especially his own works, can be imbued with memories, fears, joys, and dreams. That's his chip you're wearing on your shoulder.

Kate Hensler Fogarty is a writer living in New York City.

Tod Pardon - Breathing Fire (brooch/sculpture)
  Breathing Fire (brooch/sculpture), 2001
  sterling silver, 14k gold, mixed inlay, amber,   hematite
  height 7"
  above right
  Dexter Guy: Motion and Light (sculpture),   2001 mahogany, padouk, ebony, sterling   silver, copper, 14k gold, steel, simulated   ivory, river rocks, African trade beads, Ceiva   frame
  23 x 12 x 7"

In his interviews, personal statements, and work titles, Tod Pardon takes pains to stress the whimsy of his lyrical, brightly colored jewelry — but a consideration of his recent work reveals much deeper, darker emotions. Worn on a necklace or shoulder, his little creatures seem intriguing yet benign; but when surrounded by an exhibitionful of these armless, bug-eyed critters, one senses they're not altogether friendly. Their jaws stretched wide, are these tiny Pardonites meant to suggest harmless newborn birds craning for food? Or are they singing with joy? Screaming in pain? Cackling at us?

The son of famed jewelry artist Earl Pardon, Tod also served as his apprentice for four years until his death in 1991. Yet the whispers that his work is too derivative should be a thing of the past. While Tod does share Earl's medium, materials, and skill, his father seems no more present in his work than other self-declared influences: African decorative arts, pre-Columbian sculpture, world music, and his own son, Dexter Guy

The show at Aaron Faber Gallery featured 36 works, arranged in no clear order (no dates provided), and included a suite of paintings and three sculptures. The jewelry is all hand-fabricated with Pardon's signature technique: a body of sterling silver and 14k and 22k gold is inlaid cloisonné-style with pigmented glass, as well as wood, bone, simulated ivory, and other materials. Appended to the figures are beads, precious and semiprecious stones, and river pebbles that suggest teeth, eyes, and other body parts.

Pardon is best known for his brooches, and those displayed fell into three styles. The first is a family of pincer-legged, elongated-torso forms that recall the work of Joan Miro. These works, for example Breathing Fire, seem most about jewelry's sculptural movement in space (on their Pardon-designed pedestals) or across the body, like brilliantly clad tribal dancers.


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This article appears courtesy of METALSMITH magazine, published by The Society of North American Goldsmiths (SNAG). For membership and subscription information, please visit www.snagmetalsmith.org, or call 541.345.5689.