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Artist Makes Amends as 'Eagle' Lands in Court

October 19, 1988|TOM GORMAN | Times Staff Writer

The punishment seemed ever so cleverly to fit the crime, and on Tuesday a humble Tadeusz (Ted) Lukjanczyk--considered by some as a modern-day Michelangelo--repaid part of his debt to society.

Lukjanczyk, a genius sculptor with the passion and contempt of an artist, had set fire to one of his own creations two years ago this month: a larger-than-life rendering of Christ on the cross that he had sculpted on commission for the Prince of Peace Abbey in Oceanside.

The morning after, he continued his rampage, striking off the arms on his graceful carving of St. Benedict, founder of the religious order of men who maintain a life of solitude on an Oceanside hilltop above the San Luis Rey River Valley.

Frustrated or Madman?

Those who knew him said the destruction was the work of a madman. Lukjanczyk said it was born of frustration, of fleeting fame, of fears that his talent was being exploited. An artist can express himself through chisel; so too, fire.

Lukjanczyk (pronounced luke-JAN-sick) confessed to his crime and was sentenced by Vista Superior Court Judge David Moon to five years' probation and to pay restitution to the abbey, totaling nearly $196,000.

Add one more thing, Moon said: create a piece of art fitting for public display.

So it was on Tuesday morning that Lukjanczyk returned to the courthouse and unveiled "Eagle," a stunning, 5 1/2-foot-diameter, 250-pound artwork.

Its centerpiece is an Aztec thunderbird in relief, carved of Honduran mahogany and surrounded by inlaid, cobalt-blue Italian tile, encircled in turn by copper foil.

Lukjanczyk estimated he spent more than 300 hours on the project and spent $300 on material. He estimated its value on Tuesday at $10,000. Previous Lukjanczyk works have been appraised by collectors at more than $100,000; a bronze bust of the Pope was displayed for a time in the Vatican library.

Courthouse Reaction

If a courthouse hallway seems an unlikely gallery for Lukjanczyk's newest artwork, he nonetheless seemed pleased by the reaction he received Tuesday from Judge Moon, court employees, jurors and attorneys who happened across "Eagle's" unveiling.

The spectators offered spontaneous "ohhhs" and "ahhhs" as the sheet was lifted and among the most pleased was the judge himself, who called the artwork "marvelous."

Lukjanczyk said he chose the thunderbird because "it is an emblem of authority."

Lukjanczyk, who is living in a Tucson rehabilitation and counseling community known as Amity, said he was not given any parameters for his artwork. He quipped, "I didn't stand on my artistic rights to stick (Moon) with a mermaid."

"Over the period I worked on it, I had an opportunity to rethink the whole sorry mess that brought me here," he said. "This is as much an apology as I could make to the people, to the judge, and to the abbey. I have positive feelings about this. I don't harbor too many negative feelings--it's too energy-depleting."

And he was clearly pleased by his creation. "This is my first time working in tile," he said. "This was quite a departure for me . . . but I can do anything out of anything, actually."

Lukjanczyk's only request of the judge was that a spotlight be placed over the work to better illuminate the brilliance in the blue tiles. "In sunlight it simply glows," he said. "But it is lost in this half-light."

Moon said he was pleased, in retrospect, by his decision to order Lukjanczyk to create an artwork.

Moon said of Lukjanczyk's compliance with his order: "He'd probably be insane not to comply. The alternative was to be sentenced to state prison. This was a very unusual situation and a most unusual man."

Said Moon's bailiff, Elmer Blikie, "We knew what he was capable of, and this is a happy ending. This is great."

Even Gary Rempel, the deputy district attorney who prosecuted Lukjanczyk, applauded him on Tuesday.

"This is excellent," said Gary Rempel, the deputy district attorney who prosecuted Lukjanczyk. "I knew he was a great sculptor, and it appears now that he's off to other mediums with equal ease.

"It would have been a waste of talent not to focus him (through probation) back into his art. He's an eccentric genius who unfortunately has to live in a society that doesn't accept artistic fits such as arson."

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