Tracing the Transcendental The Photographs of John D’Agostino by Stephanie Buhmann The photographs of John D’Agostino are inspired by one of art’s eternal quests: the search for the sublime. Though pursued in the contemporary language of abstract photography, it is an ambition that relates more closely to some artists of the past. The works of the 19th Century American Romantics Thomas Cole and Frederick E. Church, Louis Comfort Tiffany, the American artist most associated with the Art Nouveau movement, and the Abstract Expressionists, have all had a significant impact on D’Agostino’s work - aesthetically, but more importantly, intellectually. D’Agostino shares with them the belief that nature functions as a renewing source of inspiration. Be it that this idea of nature exists in the unaltered landscape, as the Romantics thought, or within ourselves as the Abstract Expressionists gathered, they all believed that it could provide a possible gateway to the sublime. In Empire of Glass, D’Agostino traces this idea, by photographing actual pieces of Tiffany’s stained glass. The works are not detail studies of Tiffany’s famous pastoral scenes however, but almost painterly depictions of broken glass fragments. These were rescued by D’Agostino’s grandfather during the liquidation of the Tiffany Studios in 1933, when workmen thinking them worthless, threw entire glass sheets into the East River. The condition of these favrile glass pieces is far from pristine. Having been covered in newspapers, buried under soil and debris for over seven decades, they show the wears of decay. Dirt has added the occasional veiling layer, for example, while their backsides, which were once coated with gold and silver-foil leaf, are partially decomposed. They are relics of a bygone era and yet, like pieces of amber in which insects have been fixated for eternity, they contain mysterious riddles. D’Agostino explores his subjects intimately, finding new beginnings where decay has reigned. The glass pieces might only be mere shadows of their former self, but they nevertheless embody something precious: the reflections of passing time and the natural transformations it instigates. By capturing the unique colors and biomorphic forms that are embedded in the actual glass and also linger on its surface, D’Agostino takes on the role of a visual archaeologist. He recovers, documents, and interprets his findings into compositions that are striking in their mélange of vivid textures and highly associative patterns. Albeit abstract, the images found in these compositions are rooted in nature. They are organic, often seem fluid, and forever changing. They evoke various formations found in nature. They are reminiscent of cross sections of stone, liquid lava, water or cloud configurations. Overall, the impression manifests, that they are themselves only fragments of a larger whole and that a larger truth remains implanted in these elegant conglomerates of color and form. In that sense, each of D’Agostino’s works emerge as a footprint of the great unknown. It is characteristic of photography that it isolates a distinct moment in time. In D’Agostino, each work resembles a microcosm, a minute facet of the macrocosm, which could be the equivalent of the sublime. D’Agostino has said that “the abstract sublime is [his] instrument of freedom” and there is a prevalent urge in this body of work that is aimed at uncovering a secretive code of sorts. It is an expression of the general belief that seeing with the mind and spirit, rather than with the eye, will provide the possibility of a transformative experience. It is D’Agostino’s strength that he allows each viewer to experience the compositions intimately and personally. Upon observation, they unfold slowly and each layer reveals another mystery. Meanwhile, the compositions are striking in their elegance, and reveal a fine sensitivity for nuance. With poise, D’Agostino translates a longing for monumental truths into clear abstract visuals, in which forms are transient and colors exude a mesmerizing luminosity. Enabling our instinct, D’Agostino leaves us to experience the works by ourselves. It will depend on our individual makeup, projections, emotions and spirituality, if we will be able to find traces of the transcendental.