John (Johnny) Velardi
Johnny Velardi selects organic materials—such as onion skin, sea grape leaves, clementine peels—and transforms these fragile elements into strong, inscrutable monsters. All three materials serve as protection for the fruits that grow within them, and may reference Velardi’s own experience. The artist suffers from chronic eczema, a condition in which the skin can crack and become inflamed. In his work, he emphasizes the role of outer layers and seals his finished sculptures with varnish, giving them a bendable rubbery texture.
Velardi’s cast of characters is culled from literature and popular culture. In King Ezekiel of the Walking Dead (2015-2017), he fortifies and colors a dead sea grape leaf through the application of gouache and acrylic finish, to which he adds clementine peels. Placed on a popsicle stand, the work depicts the noble King Ezekiel from the graphic novel and television show The Walking Dead. Velardi painted obvious references for fans of the show, for instance, the tiger pattern that symbolizes Ezekiel’s bond with his rescued animal. The sculpture is a fitting portrait of an outwardly muscular fighter, who is also inwardly a sympathetic leader.
Velardi also invents his own characters: Mr. Angry Onion is envisioned as Mr. Potato Head’s archenemy. Thanks to Velardi, Mr. Potato Head, a popular American toy and animated character, has his own wrathful antagonist, ready to foil any potential acts of heroism. Likewise, a new character called Frankenstein’s Dragonfly is prepared for the next major movie remake of author Mary Shelley’s character, Frankenstein. Velardi was inspired to create the nightmarish insect after seeing a “really beautiful dragonfly” on his porch.