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by Anthony Haden-Guest
|"Antonio: Fashion Drawings and Photographs," Mar. 9-Apr. 9, 2000, at Staley-Wise Gallery, 560 Broadway, New York, N.Y. 10012.
Time congeals around an illustration the way amber will trap a bug -- that is the illustration's weakness, and its peculiar strength. The work of Antonio Lopez -- both his drawings and his seldom-seen photographs -- now seems as sunk into its time as that of Aubrey Beardsley or Charles Dana Gibson.
Antonio's time, which was that of Club Sept in Paris and Studio 54 in New York, is the later '70s, so it was both pretty recent and scarily long ago. His drawings, done in colored pencil, watercolor and ink, range from meticulous fashion-illustration fantasies that have a dark Tom of Finland feeling to strong near-abstractions that puts you in mind of Leon Bakst. The photographs are mounted together in grids of six or nine, a bit like Warhol's filmstrips, and with much the same cast of characters -- Diana Vreeland, Pat Cleveland, Tina Chow, Patti d'Arbanville, Grace Jones, Diane von Furstenberg, Jessica Lange and Jerry Hall among them.
He made extensive drawings exploring a single conceit -- the metamophosis of a five-inch pump into a mannequin and back again. One example he titled Shoe Metamorphosis: Jane Thorvaldsen, 1978; Charles James "Shrimp" Dress, and it shows Thorvaldsen, an angular fashion model with platinum hair, going through four phases of transformation from lady into shoe.
"We met in Studio 54," says Thorvaldsen, now herself an artist. "We worked for five years. His studio was originally next door to Andy Warhol when Andy was on Union Square. They exchanged portraits. He would always draw me live. Always. That was part of his reputation.
"Everybody would complain and say boy! I'm dying! I'm ready to pass out! Because he would take a long time. We got paid, depending on how well he was doing at the time. Usually better if it was Bloomingdale's or Saks Fifth Avenue. He did shopping bags for them."
In the exhibition at Staley-Wise, shoes dominate the graphics. The photographs, most of which were apparently shot with a Kodak Instamatic, include a glistening suite of stills that show Pat Cleveland, a supermodel avant la lettre, nakedly afloat in Antonio's bathtub -- one of his "Blue Water" series -- and other shots that show Diana Vreeland chatting with a man with beetling black eyebrows, like the heavy in a silent movie. He turns out to be a pre-pony-tail Karl Lagerfeld.
More detailed drawings, such as a 26-inch-tall rendering of Jerry Hall with a Tiger's head, are priced at $14,000. Smaller works, such as an Interview magazine cover with Antonio's drawing of Brigitte Bardot, are $7,000. The framed sets of color snapshots are priced in the $6,000-$10,000 range.
Antonio was born in Puerto Rico in 1943 and brought up in Spanish Harlem before he went to the Fashion Institute of Technology on Manhattan's lower West Side. There he met Juan Ramos, who became his life-long partner and collaborator. Ramos art-edited the work so "Antonio" effectively means both of them. This is the first important exhibition of the material in New York since the artist's death in 1987.
ANTHONY HADEN-GUEST is a writer, reporter and cartoonist. He is currently at work on Famous: Some Journeys through Celebrity Worlds (William Morrow).