Starting out in Melbourne’s skate and street art scene, artist James Reka sought to make his mark through images of an abstract, often eerie and captivating nature. Influenced by sculpture and the female form, it’s clear to see how these, often intertwined with fragments of a geometric nature, have manifested in his work. The connection to his roots remains strong having established a name for himself in Australia, even having a permanent exhibit of his work in the National Gallery of his homeland which is without doubt a huge accolade for any artist. Choosing to swim against the current, Reka swapped Melbourne for Berlin where he lived for 8 years. Now based in Malta, we wanted to find out what prompted this move, particularly during a global pandemic and of course delve a little deeper into all things art related….
On moving to Europe…
Travel and experiencing different cultures are the biggest sources of inspiration for my work so I knew that I wanted to relocate at some stage. I like the idea of reinventing myself and giving myself the shock of a new culture to see how that reflects in my work style and direction as I adapt to new settings. After spending some time travelling throughout Europe and the States, Berlin was the place that just sang out to me. I felt particularly drawn to the strong graffiti and music scenes there over other cities I considered and more of a connection to the liberal mindset than that of Australia. That was the change I was in need of. Being based more centrally also just made more sense from a work perspective; Australia has a really strong scene but it’s hard to get international exposure plus it’s so far out geographically which is why a lot of us end up moving. From this part of the world I can travel more easily not only within Europe, but also to the States which is where I envision myself working a lot more in the future.
On leaving Berlin for Malta…
Some people asked,”Why are you leaving? I thought you loved it here”; they seemed to take the fact I was leaving Berlin personally, but I knew I wanted to move at some point and with things like Brexit happening, it was perhaps the push I needed. I created a life in Berlin so I know I’ll always go back, just as I will to Australia but I trust my instinct and for now I know I’m not ready to make the move. I’m not someone who likes to have a five year plan and since the pandemic has made planning anything pretty impossible, I’m kind of embracing that fact.
Tell us more about your upcoming exhibition “Forbidden Fruit”.
Australia is where I established myself and built a following so maintaining that connection is really important to me; I’ll be heading back there later in the year to hold an exhibition at Backwoods Gallery in Melbourne entitled “Forbidden Fruit”. It’s a show that will make reference to the Garden of Eden, exploring the theme of temptation through natural elements such as plants, fruit and vegetation incorporated with the figures that continue to inspire my work. Being based in Malta and it’s close proximity to Africa means I’ve been exposed to different types of flora and native vegetation that I would really like to make reference to within this upcoming show. Exploring this theme and the combination of fruit and nature seen in a sexual context, feels like a natural stepping point from my previous shows and works well with the abstract figures that often characterise my work. The title for a show often comes last but on this occasion, it just came to me and has provided a lot of ideas and inspiration for sketches for the show.
澳大利亚是我建立自己声誉的地方，也是我建立追随者的地方，所以保持这种联系对我来说真的很重要；今年晚些时候我将回到那里，在墨尔本的Backwoods画廊举办一个名为 “Forbidden Fruit “的展览。 这是一个借鉴伊甸园的展览，通过自然元素探索诱惑的主题，如植物、水果和植被与人物相结合，继续激发我的作品。我在马耳他工作，而且离非洲很近，这意味着我接触到了不同类型的植物群和当地的植被，我很想在这个即将到来的展览中有所借鉴。 探讨这个主题，以及在性的背景下看到的水果和自然的结合，感觉就像我以前的展览的一个自然的跳板，并与我的作品中经常出现的抽象人物很好地结合起来。一个展览的标题往往是最后才出现的，但在这次，我突然想到了这个标题，并为展览的草图提供了很多想法和灵感。
What inspires you?
I’m heavily influenced by figures or elements of figures, particularly the female form. It’s representative of mankind and what is a better source of inspiration than that? I like to play with curves and flow, so the female body lends itself naturally to my style in the same way that other elements like flora and fauna do. Perhaps in the future I will move towards pure abstract painting, but right now I am still really enjoying reinventing subject matter such as nature and intertwining this with the human form.
What influences your colour choices?
If I’m invited to create a mural and not able to visit the location beforehand, I’ll get a photo or even use Google maps to look at the surrounding area and get an idea of context. Intelligent muralism and street art should pay attention to these factors and paint subject matter than both incorporates them and connects to the surrounding area. I do like using colours, and my colour choice often depends on both the location and how I am feeling at the time. I am often drawn to colours of a warmer scale or “autumnal” tones, but I have also been playing with shades of blue as I enjoy the contrast of the vibrancy against the backdrop of a plain wall of a place that is derelict or has been abandoned. If I’m working on a gallery exhibition, my colour palette will largely be led by the theme I am working with. For example, my exhibition “Scarlet” referenced scenes I had experienced in places like Berghain and the dimly lit clubs that Berlin is known for. It was a departure from the colours that often characterise my work; the darker tones and exclusion of colour minimised distraction and allowed the viewer to focus on the sculptural and almost stone-like figures that the images represented. Using muted tones and taking colour out of the equation was refreshing; I focused more on mimicking textures of rock, stone and marble, even creating a stone sculpture for the exhibition which is something I would like to do more of in the future.
The Scarlet show also explored elements of Japanese bondage art, Kinbaku, portraying female figures partaking in the art form of Shibari using rope to tie and manipulate the shape of the human body.
The theme of sexuality is something I will continue explore in my “Forbidden Fruit” exhibition, although perhaps in a more abstract context.
How does changing location affect your work?
A change of location changes my outlook completely – I sometimes wonder what my art would look like had I stayed in Australia. Malta has a rich history and I want to be be consciously inspired by symbols, figures and patterns I see in the temples I visit. I’m sure this will influence my work and is something that will happen subconsciously so I’m really looking forward to how this manifests over the coming year.
换个地方就会完全改变我的看法 — 我有时会想，如果我留在澳大利亚，我的艺术会是什么样子。马耳他有着丰富的历史，我希望能从我参观的寺庙中看到的符号、数字和图案中得到自觉的启发。我相信这将会影响我的工作，而且这是会在潜意识中发生的事情，所以我真的很期待在未来的一年里这一点如何体现。
For someone who moves around so much, is having a sense of “home” important?
The older I get, the more I do feel this is something I want and having a permanent base to come back to is something I will make a decision on at some point. The negative aspect of moving constantly is finding a new studio. It takes a while to warm up to a studio space, it’s like a second home so I need to feel comfortable and find a rhythm for the creative juices to flow. In a way, a permanent studio is way more important to me than a permanent home, it helps ground me.
Do you have any stand out pieces or favourites from your body of work?
I acknowledge when I’m content with what I do but it’s rare that I’ll have favourites or be completely satisfied and I think most artists would say the same. The huge mural I painted in Jacksonville however which took 3 weeks to complete, did give me a sense of achievement, mostly due to the sheer scale of it.
On the future…
There are a lot of avenues I would like to explore and I like to keep every option open. I enjoy the interaction that comes with public art and would love the opportunity to create something with a sense of permanency at some point, like a large scale sculpture. Equally I’m very much interested in animation and becoming involved in art film direction so there are lots of possibilities. For now I still really enjoy the tactile element of painting; in a world where technology continues to move at a fast pace and things become more virtual, I like to have and create something tangible.
How long will I continue to paint murals? Until I’m finished, it will just be a feeling.
我想探索的途径有很多，我喜欢保持每一种选择都是开放的。我喜欢公共艺术带来的互动，我很想有机会在某一时刻创造一些具有永久感的东西，比如大型雕塑。同样，我对动画非常感兴趣，并参与艺术电影的导演工作，所以有很多可能性。 现在我还是很喜欢绘画中的触觉元素；在这个科技不断快速发展，事物变得更加虚拟的世界里，我喜欢拥有和创造一些有形的东西。 我还会继续画壁画多久？直到我画不动，这也只是一种感觉.
Interview 作者：: Hazel Rycraft
Art： James Reka