Todji grants a New voice to Afro-Cuban and Afro-Brazilian

It was quite by accident how I, along with my wife Renata, encountered the artwork of Todji Kurtzman at the Main Street Ft Worth Arts Fair on April 19, 2009. After we entered the sculpture garden, I was immediately aware of human monuments, frozen in motion, measuring approximately nine-to-ten feet tall amidst a group of other large sculptures.  However, these human monuments were not the ordinary or similar to other human sculptures. Sculptures based on human pose, in my personal opinion, often strike preconceived and sometimes unnatural poses. Instead, these human monuments appeared to be the focus of an exacting study in motion with extrapolations that capture the spirit of the moment.  My wife added that the human monuments appeared to have some African or African diasporic descent or style.

We quickly decided that we would find Todji Kurtzman and ask for an impromptu interview and pictures. He agreed to our random questions and handled them quite well.  During the interview, we discovered that Afro-Cuban and Afro-Brazilian dances and rhythms are a large influence in his work and life.  Furthermore, according to his website, "forced perspective" has been used by others for ages to "make their monuments appear to have correct proportions". He uses a variation of forced perspective to emphasis and present a signature interpretation that appears to emphasis the predominance of legs, arms, and back curvature within Afro-Cuban and Afro-Brazilian dance movements.

Notably, Afro-Cuban artwork has been forgotten over the last 50 years because of the relationship between America and Cuba. This relationship has changed since President Obama has taken office.

Some of the interview is dictated below:


Curtiss Yes Sir. We are speaking with the artist. Now, I'll let you go from there.  What is your name?
Todji Todji Kurtzman
Renata How do you spell that?
Todji T-O-D-J-I K-U-R-T-Z-M-A-N .com.
Curtiss So how long have you been doing this?
Todji I have skulpted since I was a child.  I worked in commercial animation for about 10 years and I did a career change to develop my fine art about in 2000 ... about 9 years in ...
Curtiss Okay. Excellent.  All right so how do you get your inspiration for your pieces, these are powerful?
Todji Thank you. Its a spiritual expression that comes from music and rhythm and dance and thats manifested in solid form.  That's the way I think about it.  I collaborate with friends who are dancers.  I photograph them and when I get a pose that I see I can extrapolate into a style, I'll work with the photo reference and the live model and I'll spend about 4 months of full-time work to just dial in the proportions and figure out the proper lengths of the appendages.  And then (I) scale it accurately and of course (with) perspective (and) with all the measure(ments) and with all the anatomy correct ... And then I'll begin with a small scale and so when I do a monument we are modeling a monument after a small maquette.  Yea, the smaller sculpture.

The Dancers
Renata How do you choose your figures?
Todji Okay.  How do I choose my figures?  The pose?
Renata The pose. Yes.
Todji I photograph dancers as reference for the poses.
Renata What type of dancers?
Todji Well, you name it.  You name it.
Renata Ballerinas, or jazz, tap?
Todji Modern, Post Modern, I have lot of friends that are into afro-brazilian, afro-cuban, experimental, recreational, inventive, inspired. I have worked with quite a different ... and usually friends. Its the collaborative process during the photo shoot that brings out a pose that neither of us would have invented by ourselves.
Renata Okay. So who takes the pictures?
Todji I do.
Renata You take the pictures as they are dancing?
Todji Yes, but its not necessarily dancing so much as inventing poses, configurations of the body that you can see in the sculptures right now.

The Creation of Art

Curtiss What material do you work with.
Todji These are bronzes.
Renata How long does it take to do a piece, a small piece?
Todji About 4 months.
Renata And a larger piece?
Todji That ... I can hire a team of sculptures to work with me and we can do that in a month. I mean, I'm just talking about sculpting time. Theres also time to make the mold, there&cute;s time to cast it, bronze in the foundry, and that can take months and months to do but its the sculpting that is really my time intensive time.
Renata So you said that before this you change careers from claymation?
Todji Yes
Renata What is that?
Todji Claymation. Well, you remember Gumbi?
Renata Yes
Todji Gumbi was claymation.  You remember the California Raisins.
Renata Yes
Todji That was claymation.
Renata So you have background in commercial...
Todji Commercial, Stop motion.  Animation.  Claymation.
Renata Was the transition from claymation to doing bronze sculpture, was that a hard transition, or was that a natural transition?
Todji I had been doing fine art sculpting of my own while I worked in animation so I had developed a body of work, I just wasn't compelled to sale it actively because I already had a living as a freelance stop motion animator.  Celebrity death match, MTV death match, remember that? Eddie Murphy's PJs.  Remember that one? Worked on that one.  So lots of different commercials, some different shows.  I was working MTV in New York when I did the first piece in this style.  I had a new girlfriend at the time who is a dancer and we did a photo shoot, it was the first one and so I was doing a portrait of her with all the skyscrapers around, I was picturing her to be 600 feet tall.  So, a skyscraper is not smaller at the top, it just looks that way when seen from the sidewalk.  So its the way our eye tells us that objects are farther away, they appear smaller in our mind's eye.  So I tried to create the illusion of great size in a small scale with these pieces and since that first portrait I've grown the concept and expanded it and experimented with it.
Renata When was the first portrait?
Todji That was 1998.
Renata In New York City?
Todji In New York City.
Renata No place like New York.
Todji No place but actually the photo shoot was in New York, sculpting took place in Portland, Oregon where I was working in animation at the time.

You can contact Todji Kurtzman at
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