Regulars in the Gallery will remember Gaetano Rando, or Guy, from the December 2011 solo exhibit “Transitions” featuring work by Guy and his son, Marco. The “spirit of mysticism and whimsy” the Washington Post saw in that show is alive and well in Rando’s 64 Garden Squares (his award winning piece in the January “Abstract Expressionism Exhibit”), but the piece also reveals changes in the artist’s work over the past two years.
If 64 Garden Squares reminds you of a chessboard, you’re not far off. In the past, Rando has made vertical chess sets that can be played from either side of the board. (This particular piece is not a functional board, though.) And like chess, this piece has its origins in Asia — specifically, the ancient Chinese text, the I Ching.
The I Ching identifies 64 hexagrams, or series of six lines, each paired with a description. The number 64 has been appearing in Rando’s recent work, as seen in 64 Garden Square and two pieces currently at Art in City Hall. The eight by eight pattern of 64 garden “rooms” represents the Earth, Rando said. Dualities, like heaven and earth, appear in the I Ching, the same way they do on a chessboard.
Rando described art as the “objectification of emotion” — an essentially untranslatable feeling that differs according to the viewer’s experience. The emotion behind 64 Garden Squares, Rando said, comes from imagining himself walking through 64 garden rooms.
What that means is up to the viewer. For Rando, creating spaces for people to experience is a familiar idea. He made a career out of teaching and practicing landscape architecture and urban design, and designed spaces including the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden, for which he was a consulting designer. He’s also created proposals for large-scale sculptures for public art competitions. In landscape architecture, in the I Ching, and in the 64 “rooms” of 64 Garden Squares, the goal is the same: describing the physical world.
Rando also brings the physical world into his work as a part of the sculpture by working with materials like driftwood and cedar. In the 2011 “Transitions” exhibit, he used found wood — driftwood from the Potomac — repurposed and reconfigured. There are common elements between those pieces and more recent ones, such as the two-dimensional feel of the sculptures, which all hang on the wall, and the use of wooden pegs. The pegs serve both a structural and aesthetic purpose, as a way to attach things and to add shadows and depth to the sculpture, Rando said.
Rando doesn’t work exclusively in wood, but it does feature prominently in his portfolio. There are two reasons for that, he said: one, it’s convenient to use, without the need to send anything out for fabrication or casting. Two, the grain and patterns in the wood inform the finished piece, especially in the examples of the weathered pieces of driftwood.
The ideas for a piece can come from anything — any experience or moment, Rando said. Then you work on it, develop it, express the concept you want to express. “You’ll always find that it’s never quite done, you can go back and work on it,” Rando said.