Nicholas Agid chisels a chunk of white marble from the body of a modern, geometrical sculpture. He had hoped to have the piece finished for a special showing in Beverly Hills next month, but the column of angles and planes is as incomplete as a half-dozen other sculptures in his open-air studio in Rolling Hills.
Agid has not been able to spend full time on sculpting lately. Acquiring pedestals for finished works and printing invitations to the showing has occupied most of his time.
Indeed, the 27-year-old's brief career as a sculptor seems to be taking off as fast as the chunks he chisels from his work.
Besides landing the special show next month, which will be given by Ernest Borgnine's wife Tova, Agid recently sold one of his sculptures--the abstract figure of a woman in pink marble--to a set designer for ABC's "Dynasty II: The Colbys," a spinoff of "Dynasty."
The piece, which Agid said he sold for "several thousand dollars," will be a permanent fixture in the home of Jason and Sable Colby and will appear in an upcoming issue of Elle magazine as part of a story on the new series.
Agid (pronounced AGG-id) said he had been showing his sculpture at the Robert J. Bentley Gallery in Beverly Hills for only about 1 1/2 months when the set designer "fell in love with" his "pink woman" abstract.
"I feel really fortunate that it happened," Agid said. "I'm just lucky that she happened to walk into the gallery. It all happened so quickly. If all goes well, it will be an overnight thing for me."
Bentley, the gallery owner, sees more talent than luck in the sale. "The emotional impact that you get when you look at one of his pieces is staggering," Bentley said. "I think he's an incredibly promising talent in today's art world." Only a year ago Agid was studying sculpture in the village of Pietrasanta, Italy, a place he described as "the only real sculpture capital in the world." He had arrived in Pietrasanta--"sacred stone" in Italian--in May, 1984, with his meager life's savings and the hope of nurturing a talent his artist mother Lucy had long suspected he had. He had explored careers in television research and photography, but his mind always returned to a poster he had seen in a college art class beckoning students to study sculpture at northwest Italy's famed marble quarries.
"I was at the point of desperation," said Agid, who was demonstrating photographic equipment when he decided to make a change. "I was so unhappy with what I was doing."
He sold his car to raise some more cash and flew to Italy. He found a $48-a-month apartment, used an old moped for transportation and ate at the Italian equivalent of Salvation Army fare--$1 for a bowl of spaghetti, a glass of wine and some bread.
Agid rented a $35-a-month space at the Cooperativo, a studio where noted British sculptor Henry Moore had worked. The space came equipped with an air hose, a wooden table and an international circle of sculptors with whom he shared ideas and gained knowledge.
He endured a month of pain in his left hand before learning to wield a hammer and chisel accurately. Until a sculptor becomes deft at striking the chisel, the area between the thumb and forefinger takes the brunt of the blows. Agid believes he also developed arthritis working in damp conditions. Still bothered by moisture, he said he must soon find a studio that provides more shelter than the side yard of his parents' home.
"You go through a lot of physical change because it takes a lot of stamina," Agid said. "It's an old-world work."
During his 6 1/2-month study in Italy, working Monday through Saturday eight or nine hours a day, Agid said he developed ideas and techniques that other sculptors were borrowing by the time he left. "I had the idea of incorporating glass with granite, which is being picked up by other artists," he said.
Agid returned to the United States last December with a priceless education and 4.5 tons of stone. "What I learned there is not available to be learned in the U.S. Sculpture is a dying art, I feel. In a time when people are looking to do things very quickly with a minimal amount of effort, it's something that requires a tremendous amount of time and labor."
His fiancee, Marta Houske, works for Tova Borgnine and introduced him to her. Impressed by his work, she volunteered to introduce him to other art aficionados at an invitation-only gathering at her penthouse office in Beverly Hills next month.
"Nick has an exceptional talent and does amazing work in such a difficult medium," said Tova Borgnine. "Anyone who can take a cold piece of stone and turn it into something alive and warm is blessed with a rare talent."
"Sometimes I feel like I have to wake up and pinch myself," he said, his soft brown eyes smiling. "There's so many good things happening to me."