Rezac talks art, geopolitics

Chicago-based sculptor Richard Rezac is an artist-in-residence at the Yale University Art Gallery this spring. Known for his abstract geometric art, Rezac has spent his first two weeks at Yale exploring Yale’s art collections and auditing classes in departments from history to astronomy. Rezac, who gave a talk called “Consequence: Influence, Method, Sculpture” at the art gallery yesterday, sat down with WEEKEND to talk about his time at Yale and inspirations for his art.

Yale University Art Gallery

Q: How would you characterize your sculpture? Do you consider yourself to be working in a particular artistic tradition?

A: I don’t see myself in a tradition per se, and I think that’s true for almost any contemporary American artist. Today, I think that the breadth of artistic practice works against anyone thinking of defining themselves by a given tradition. In general [my work] is abstract, it hovers between something quite simple and more recently something more complex, but when I say abstract, it’s not without some sense of metaphor. It’s handmade, and there’s maybe a kind of warmth to it that one may not immediately think of when the term “geometric abstraction” is brought forth.

Q: What have you been doing at Yale as an artist-in-residence? How long are you here for?

A: I’m here a total of four weeks in the spring: two weeks, then I take a month off, and then another two weeks. I’m auditing three classes. I’m most engaged at the moment by a collection called the Faber Birren collection, in the Haas Arts Library. Faber Birren is a kind of artist and teacher specializing in color. He gathered a collection of material going back from Sir Isaac Newton’s original publications about optics and the operation of color, to a lot of industrial sample books from Europe and Japan, color swatches, wool dyes from 1700s and a little lesson book for Queen Victoria about how to use color in perspective for landscape watercolors. Just today I spent three hours looking at Mediterranean glass and Egyptian glass from about the 6th century B.C. up to Roman glass of the 4th century A.D.

Q: Which classes are you auditing?

A: One is “Human Rights in the Twentieth Century,” which encompasses Europe and North and South America, and that’s a graduate-level seminar. Then there’s “The U.N. & Collective Security” about the United Nations and its history, effectiveness and application, and then “Archaeoastronomy.” I shied away from art and architecture courses; I wanted to take advantage of a kind of setup that is new to me. So the history, the political science and the astronomy areas were attractive.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about your artistic process? How do you get ideas for new sculptures, and what’s the process of taking an idea and actually creating something?

A: Literally I do start with a blank sheet of paper. I begin by drawing, and it’s a process of trial and error, adding and subtracting, and the curious thing for me is that I make a two-dimensional image, knowing that it’ll be a three-dimensional sculpture. So in a sense I’m drawing the face, or the silhouette, of a three-dimensional form. Then I switch to thinking in practical terms: is it buildable? If it’s a series of dots, what does that mean for a sculpture? Sometimes I make an informal model to scale, based on that drawing, out of cardboard or wood. From that three-dimensional physical thing in my presence, I can make adjustments. And then it’s a case of deciding whether or not I want to go ahead and make it in a permanent material. The process may take two months, or sometimes six months.

Q: Are there specific sources you find inspiration from when you’re thinking up new ideas for a sculpture or a drawing to turn into a sculpture?

A: I guess I’m sort of a captive of the fine arts architecture, and I think that’s the wellspring for my sources. Maybe partly it’s that I’m not a representational artist, I don’t reach out beyond that boundary of fine arts and look to living, breathing circumstances for material. It’s a somewhat hermetic, I suppose, area of interest. And it is centered in the history of art. Perhaps that’s a kind of deficiency, or at least a kind of restriction. But I found that’s what I want to look at, that’s what I think about, that’s what I’m inspired by, so that is really almost the one and only source.

Q: Do you have suggestions for aspiring artists at Yale, or students who are very interested in art?

A: I think a good entry point is the art gallery, both the Center for British Art and the general museum here. I don’t know of any other museum in the country that is as extensive with student involvement and access. I think really the key is looking at original material. Not in books, not online, but in the museum. That way I think they would get a really judicious understanding of what it means to either study or to make art.

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