Jimmy Grashow first saw Rome’s Trevi Fountain in the mid-sixties, when he studied in Italy as a young sculptor. The fountain was originally designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and his marble horses and gods of the sea tower 85 feet above the crowds of tourists. Grashow was hooked and he kept that image of the fountain in the back of his mind.
Grashow became a working artist, specializing in woodcut and sculpture. His prints appear regularly in the New York Times. But he also has a curious passion for cardboard. "Cardboard is the essence. Its a phenomenal material, its easy to work with, I think heaven is probably made out of cardboard," he says.
Grashow did big things with cardboard. He built an anthropomorphized city, he built gigantic people. And then, he got this crazy idea. Why not try to build the Trevi Fountain...in cardboard?
"It's thrilling to get an idea that just burns inside of you. Once you get it, you become obsessed with it. You try to push it away, you know its absurd, but its so irresistible, you can't back off. So right from the beginning it was something I wanted to do."
Building the fountain would take years. It would be intricate and grand at the same time. "I always want to do things on a heroic scale. And thinking about mortality, it just seemed a fountain and cardboard seemed to be a perfect vehicle to do something heroic and at the same time ridiculous."
But the goal was not to just build the fountain. Instead, Grashow wanted it to be a working fountain. When it was completed, it would be outdoors, in the elements. Grashow notes that the idea seems to mirror everything he feels about life: "Trying to do something permanent and forever, and at the same time always knowing you are mortal and chained to reality."
And so, he did it. He devoted years to the project, knowing whatever intricate piece of Poseidon's beard, or delicate piece of a hoof, was made in order to ultimately be destroyed. He jokes that he doesn't know how he did it. "I want to cry!" just thinking about it, he says with a chuckle.
The filmmaker is North Carolina's own Olympia Stone. She has a personal connection to the subject. She writes that the story started for her several years ago. Grashow was visiting the home of his art dealer, Allan Stone, who is Olympia's father, when he stumbled across some of his sculptures. Giant fighting men that had been put outside due to lack of space.
They were disintegrating. Although it was deeply painful and shocking for Jimmy to see his work like that, it was also surprisingly beautiful. Jimmy felt that he was seeing the full arc of his artistic enterprise before him—including its end. So, Grashow challenged himself to embrace the “back end” of his process, and decided to build a giant cardboard “fountain”—a Grashow “Bernini.”
And Olympia decided to document the process. We are so glad she did. You can listen to Jimmy Grashow's May 2013 conversation with Dick Gordon here:
And here's the trailer to the film: