James Colavita (1949 - 1996 )

Born in Lawrence, New Jersey, James Colavita had an affection for art from an early age. Studying at various institutions, including the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, he later graduated from Trenton State College with a bachelor of arts. Colavita completed graduate studies at Tyler School of Art/Temple University and received his master of fine arts degree in 1986 from Brooklyn College, New York. Colavita held many art-related jobs from the 1970s to the mid 1990s, including teaching sculpture and ceramics at Mercer County Community College in New Jersey.(1)

Colavita's sculptures merged the darkest of intangible human emotions with the tangibility and fragility of clay. Much of Colavita’s work appears frightening, if not disturbing, but it is always blatantly truthful and sincere. The smoked, dark nature of the colored glazes he used, and the pairing of human and non-human forms, particularly domestic animals, hits the viewer’s eyes with a subtle intensity that leads to a deeper inquiry into the piece being viewed. Colavita’s works are deeply rooted in emotion, and almost always serious in subject matter. Questioning his works would only lead to questioning oneself, and Colavita may very well have been aware of all of this.(2)

From simple busts with geometric abstractions reminiscent of gaping wounds, to objects that resemble ceremonial shrines like those found in South American cultures, Colavita’s works explore the nature of the human soul. Some of his works may not be easy to look at, but neither is the human soul. James Colavita died in New Jersey in 1996. (1) (MJV)

(1-2) Frederick S. Kiley, Sr., From the Fire: The Sculpture of James J. Colavita (New Jersey: James J. Colavita Retrospective Organization, 1998).

(illustration pending)

This sculpture portrays a figure bound and visibly tortured, standing on top of a steel cart, which appears to be meant to be pulled in a procession of some sort. Dark in color, and almost unrecognizable as human at first glance, the piece vaguely resembles the shape of a phallus, which coincides with the mutilated state of the figure (there is a visible wound leading from the lower abdomen to the genital area). This piece is dark and horrifying. By placing it on a movable cart, Colavita puts the viewer face to face with the notion that humans can do atrocious things to other humans, and sometimes these acts are celebrated. Although not overly gruesome, nor terribly detailed, this piece hits the appropriate chords, forcing the viewer to face his or her emotions.

The style of the sculpture is almost deconstructive, as well as highly expressionist. Though a lot of Colavita’s work could be quickly categorized as surreal by the untrained eye, it is actually more expressionist that surreal. The rugged gouging of the form is quickly identified with the pain experienced in such a situation. The agonized facial expression and the clasped hands (forming an almost prayer like form above its head) further push the viewer into a state of sympathy towards the piece. It is interesting to note that toward the bottom of this work, as with many of Colavita’s works, the figure starts to take a dramatic geometric form; it is almost as if you can see the figure being released from the block of clay. This notion of emergence likewise explores human emotion, and is highly expressive.

(Michael J. Virok)

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