Karlis Rekevics is at the beginning of his career, and yet his work doesn’t bring to mind any other artist. His complex white plaster sculptures, cast from molds made of plywood, masonite and blue foam, are multi-part forms with neon tubes and/or light bulbs attached to them. They are intuitively composed amalgamations of anonymous objects found in the urban landscape or other places the artist has visited throughout his life and products of his imagination and drawing process.
“Rather than having a dialogue with artwork, I think my job is to try and do something different. I really tried not to have my work become commentary on the art world. I feel that an artist has to find another way.” He recently had the largest exhibit of his work to date at Triangle Studios in Dumbo, Brooklyn. The Triangle Artist’s Workshop, founded in 1982 by the British sculptor Anthony Caro and Robert Loder, a collector, has become a very important residency program for young artists. It brings artists from around the world together under the same roof.
“What I love about Triangle is that it is dedicated to people who make things, whatever medium they work in. It is not about conceptualization, it is actually about getting your hands dirty and making something.” I had the opportunity to speak with Rekevics on the last day of the exhibit. This is a busy time for him. When I entered the exhibit he was seated at a table and examining slides of his work with an intense expression on his face. He had a lackluster undergraduate experience. He made the wise decision of foregoing graduate school and started to work in theater design, working as a master carpenter at the Manhattan Theatre Club for five years. He discovered his true calling while he attended the New York Studio School up until 1996.
The son of an architect, Rekevics started to build things early on. “I helped my father build his house starting at the age of 10 and it was completed when I was about 16.” Surprisingly, he feels uneasy about having his work referred to as architecture. “It is too easy to say that I do architectural work. To me that is almost too obvious and I do not think that is what is driving it. I think about the little things in between the buildings and on the streets. I’m not really thinking about architecture.” Rekevics is completely unfazed about the fact that he has not sold any of his work yet. He will be facing a dilemma when the first interested buyer comes along because he dismantles and destroys all of his sculptures after an exhibit ends. The sculptures in the Triangle exhibit take up a huge room and consist of “six tons of plaster.”
Memories of specific forms or the arrangement of forms are the inspiration for these sculptures. They come into existence through the process of drawing, which Rekevics does constantly. “I draw, remember, draw some more, then some dominate images start to reveal themselves.”
Rekevics’ sculptures draw attention to banal, often ignored aspects of the urban environment. The forms he models his shapes on are familiar to viewers, but the whiteness of the plaster emphasizes a self referential quality. The separate components are connected with a screw gun or glue gun and conjure forth images of city streets, highways, buildings and sidewalks, but at the same time, they refuse to gel perfectly. The fragmentary quality of these sculptures and Rekevics use of light sources call our attention to the details and surface textures, the interaction of lines and the odd angles formed by the placement of the sculptures. Forms overlap and suck the viewer’s gaze and wandering body into the physical spaces between sculptures. Rekevics is more about poetic fragments than tableaus.
The mimetic aspect of Reskevics’ work is entirely the product of memory. “The work started to come out of my life. Then it became a choice. I am going to make things out of my daily existence. The things I see, the things that effect me, the things I remember, the things that are curious to me, the things that make me laugh. Whatever it is I get excited about. When I started to work that way, I didn’t have time to go out in the landscape and draw anymore. So I started to remember things, to do things out of memory, which changed my perspective. One of my earlier pieces was just about driving to work everyday. I would go home to my studio and I’d start to draw. What did I remember? Then I would build things and play with them as a whole object. Then I would think about what the thing I am making needs. I would see something that would help me solve a problem.” He never casts shapes from real objects.
The shapes his sculptures refer to, payphone shells, store facades, doorways, signs and billboards, construction scaffolding, I-Beams, cement dividers found on highways and city streets, cinder blocks, and ramps leading to nowhere are registered unconsciously by city dwellers. Every sculpture he makes is the product of a specific memory. But his work is also about the fragmentation of memory. He does not want to create a specific locale top to bottom, but is interested in marginalia or isolated shapes or structural passages. His sculptures are somewhat disjointed – I-beam shapes are set at odd angles forming a roof, cinder block shapes are strewn across the ground, the skeleton of a billboard is illuminated by yellowy lightbulbs. This transforms the homogenous into something contemplative.
Rekevics invents forms, such as the supports for the large ramp and the pillars that hold up an interesting block shape in the Triangle installation. Sometimes these invented forms solve technical problems but they are also pure invention. The parts of the sculptures which resemble familiar objects are different from the actual objects in subtle ways, so that remembering how something looks becomes a creative act. Rekevics is not interested in making replicas of the real, but in capturing the often ignored Spartan and ephemeral beauty of the non-commercial aspects of the urban landscape. Rekevics also self consciously includes billboard and sign shapes in his sculptures which are blank, missing what is essential to their being, the advertisement. The sculptures are therefore also concerned with the way the gaze of the pedestrian is manipulated by the systems we pass through in urban settings, how our eyes are drawn to certain things which we barely register on a conscious level. The invented forms and the forms closely based on real objects blend together. The viewer is placed in a quasi-real place that relates to the real, has an aura of the familiar, but also subtly diverges from it, and inevitably refers to itself.
Plaster is the perfect material for Rekevics because of its transformative power. “I love plaster’s inertness, its intrinsic beauty. Plaster has been around forever. It is a very affordable material. I love the fact that plaster is strong and fragile simultaneously, and that it’s ephemeral. I can take one of these things, bust it up and put it in a bucket of water and pour it into another mold. Basically I can transform it into whatever I want it to be.” Using plaster allows Rekevics to emulate any industrial material; glass, corrugated steel, cement, plywood. Plaster has traditionally been used to make copies of existing forms, or to patch or even out surfaces. Rekevics builds three dimensional forms with plaster and he likes to incorporate accident and contingency into the work.
Rekevics closely examines the world we live in. He wants us to think about the systems we entrust our daily routines and movements to. He combines imaginary forms with perception based forms and invites us to explore the terrain he builds and the terrain outside the walls of the gallery. “I want to reinvigorate the art of just looking around, without ideas, judgment or purpose, to enjoy the fact that we can see, hear, feel, and touch.” Rekevics sculpture is powerful because it is perception based. The sculptures are self referential but they constantly call to mind our everyday experience, and we begin to explore what was once invisible or ignored once we leave the exhibit. “Life will fail the idea because life isn’t about ideas it’s about living.”