FOR AN INSTANT you think there is a party going on in F Paul Albert's tiny living room. It is full of people.
Then you realize that everyone else is a sculpture. I mean big. Across the oriental rug is Hernando, an eight-foot naked man taking a bath in a tub that suddenly has come alive, its claws growing five-foot ostrich legs and releasing their grip on the golden balls underfoot. Facing him is Bernice, a black athlete in a bathing suit attached to a boat's prow like a figurehead. Bernice is 7 foot 6.
Finally, so close you almost miss her at first, is Diana. Diana is nine feet tall, has Persian blue skin and wears a ballet dancer's leotard. She is holding the barre and beginning an arabesque. Wait a minute. The barre is changing into a javelin. Her right hand is fingers-up in a throwing grip. And she is five months pregnant. Diana, the virgin goddess. Someone is telling us something.
Diana makes her debut tonight from 6 to 9 on the Ellipse opposite the Corcoran Gallery where the Narrative Wood Sculpture Show opens at the same time. The artist is in effect borrowing the Corcoran audience.
"Kelly doesn't mind them all being here in the living room," said Albert rather cautiously. "We came to an agreement beforehand." Actress Kelly Kennedy is his model. They were married last week. They both keep their professional names, but at home they are Katherine Ellen and Paul Di Pasquale.
"We spend our time in the back room," said Albert, 30. "We have our parties there, but people drift in here and stand among the pieces. The thing I'm really happy about is that the landlord of the apartment building off Woodley Road lets me use the empty boiler room to work in free."
During both Hernando and Bernice, he had the living room floor permanently covered with cardboard and hummocks of clay, pails of plaster and paint, and wires coming down from the molding in all directions. It takes him six months full time to make a sculpture, living off money made teaching design at the Annandale NOVA campus. The market for larger-than-life statues is somewhat limited, but he hopes to sell some two-foot studies.
In the summer he works in his garage. He models full size in clay, makes a plaster mold, recasts in Fiberglas ("like a Corvette or surfboard") and paints in acrylic lacquer (Diana) or acrylic enamel (Bernice) or varnish (Hernando's bathtub, which is rippling laminated wood and looks just the way you would expect a bathtub to look if it were coming alive).
A nine-foot sculpture is a way of life. Before he got his $600 van, Albert had a VW, and whenever he took Bernice somewhere he had to make two trips. The boat part weighs 250 pounds and fits through the door with one-eighth inch to spare. And then down four flights of stairs. Diana is easier because she's only 90 pounds. But she does continue to stand there with her braided hair a whisper short of the ceiling, making her statement.
She faces the wall so you can't see her expression unless you slip under the barre, which people hesitate to do. It is a complicated expression: decision, anxiety, concentration. Albert works carefully on faces, achieving a slightly scary realism.
"With Bernice I'm poking fun at those figureheads with flowing blond hair, making her black and strong, flexing her biceps. Some people see Hernando as sad, some find him kind of silly, sitting there contemplating his toe while his bathtub is getting up and carrying him away. He's as passive as Bernice is aggressive."
People react in two basic ways: First, they are awed, even taken aback, when confronted by these giants. You can patronize a Daumier figurine, yawn at a Degas miniature, but when these babies talk, you listen. Second, they bring out secret impulses in us, perhaps guilty yearnings, and invite us to face them. There is that need to look into Diana's averted face. And when Bernice was shown at Adams-Morgan Day, some kids just had to stroke her sleek buttocks. And Hernando . . . He was shown across the street from a Hirshhorn opening last spring. Children kept jumping up to see inside the tub. When Albert brought a milk carton to stand on, a line formed immediately. Some parents wouldn't let their children look.
Yes, Hernando is all there, very much so. But why were you so interested?