Neil Goodman

Richard Rezac

THE INDEPENDENT VOICE OF THE VISUAL ARTS

 

Two Top Sculptors Recall their Time
in Chi-Town

 

Neil Goodman is a noted contemporary sculptor who arrived in Chicago in 1979. He taught at Indiana University Northwest in Gary, Indiana for thirty-eight years, where he is currently Professor Emeritus of Fine Arts. He divides his time between studios in Chicago and the Central Coast of California. His current exhibition, “Close Proximity,” is a retrospective of both indoor and outdoor works at the Museum of Outdoor Arts (MOA) in Denver, Colorado.

Richard Rezac lives and works in Chicago. His sculpture and works on paper have been shown nationally and internationally since 1975. His recent solo exhibition, “Address,” presented at the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago earlier this year, is currently on view at the Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston through December 8, 2018. Rezac has received fellowship grants from the Guggenheim Foundation and, in 2006, the Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome. He is an adjunct professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

 

Neil Goodman: Tell me about the early ‘80s for you in Chicago. I remember first meeting you and [Rezac’s wife] Julia [Fish] through Richard Deutsch at the loft you were subleasing from Ron Cohen and JoAnne Carson on Hubbard Street in Chicago. At that time, there were several alternative galleries in the vicinity, and this was a bit of an artistic hub for many young artists as they were attempting to get their foot in the door.

 

Richard Rezac: We came here together in 1985. My wife, Julia Fish, was teaching for three semesters at the University of Iowa, where she met Richard Deutsch, who was there as a Visiting Artist. Through Richard, we met his partner Bruce Clearfield, and then Ron Cohen and JoAnne Carson, as well as Diane Simpson and other artists in Chicago. At the time, Ron was teaching at the University of Chicago. Even with very few connections initially, I felt that Chicago was a welcoming city and larger and more expansive that any place I had lived before. The museum collections and exhibitions were a compelling factor for us in being here, as they are especially important and accessible.

By comparison, we witnessed life in New York, visiting often while we were in graduate school in Baltimore. And we knew, instinctively, that the fast-paced, crowded and expensive nature of New York did not suit us. And while we had numerous artist friends in Los Angeles, that also was not right, so the size and structure of Chicago had much to offer.

 

Neil: How did your rural roots affect you, and what influence did they have on your work?

 

Richard: I was raised in a suburban environment actually, at the edge of Lincoln, Nebraska. But most of my relatives did operate farms, and my family visited them regularly, and as an adolescent, I did spend summers on my grandparent’s farm in Kansas, and certainly that experience of nature and open landscape resonates still, and perhaps an attention to subtlety was formed there.

 

Neil: Tell me about Hudson and Feature, Inc. In the history of Chicago art, Hudson seemed to be a dealer that opened doors for many artists and signaled a counterpoint from the dominant regionalism of the time.

 

Richard: I became represented by Feature, operated by Hudson, even before we moved here, and we only met in person while installing my first show there. For many artists, I think, Hudson was a pivotal figure in Chicago, and his gallery and the exhibitions he organized were a point of contact at that time because his shows were surprising and thorough. He was remarkable, completely honest and responsive, as professional as one could wish for, and his visual memory or recall was photographic—as clear as anyone else that I have known.

 

Neil: Yes, I remember your first show at Feature gallery well. For many years, I kept the postcard from that show—a veiled sculpture—in my hall of fame—a collection of hundreds of announcements that I turned into a large-scale installation in the entrance to the fine arts building at Indiana University Northwest. I always loved both the hardness and softness of that image as well as the ambiguity of scale.

Feature must have been a natural fit as both you and Hudson had a stylistic independence that was very different than the prevailing aesthetic identified with Chicago at this time. Perhaps your confidence and clarity as an artist, like Hudson as a dealer, was implicit in your professional relationship. Also in the context of Chicago sculpture at that time, your work seemed to ask questions that were uniquely yours. Hudson in that regard seemed to be the right dealer at the right time in Chicago.

Richard, in the course of close to thirty years, I have seen numerous exhibitions of your work. What has always impressed me has been the singular focus and clarity of each sculpture. From an outsider’s perspective, your work transitions from one sculpture to the next, and although the images vary, your signature seems embedded in each of your works. With this thought in mind, do you ever get stuck and struggle to find new images?

 

Richard: There were certainly periods in the beginning when I had serious doubts about what could, or should, follow, but in the last fifteen to twenty years, I would say, this has rarely happened. Because drawing is always the first step in my process, this allows me to search for possibilities in a deliberative and open-ended way, leading to an idea worth pursuing.

 

Neil: Both you and Julia are well-known artists with both long careers and a long marriage. Although you live and work in the same building, yet with separate studios, the obvious question is how much do you talk about each other’s work.

 

Richard: Very little. We talk about the art that we see, particularly when we travel, and sometimes that is in connection to our own work. But within our ongoing studio work, finished or in process, we do not have regular discussions, mainly because we understand that decisions made need to be respected, especially given the private and deliberative nature of our work.

In certain cases, and often that is in the selection of a particular work, or works, for an exhibition, we will solicit an opinion from the other, like an editor might.

 

Neil: Yes, that is always an interesting question, as sharing a space has both the obvious advantages of a shared voice, yet there is a certain autonomy and reserve which also occurs when living in such close proximity. Interestingly, and perhaps it has something to do with aging, that the voice that you hear becomes mostly your own, both parties seem to acknowledge that solitude is an essential fabric of the creative experience.

Is teaching an inspiration?  You started teaching at SAIC in their continuing education painting program when you first moved to Chicago. Since then, you have taught on a part-time basis at the School for all of your career in Chicago.

 

Richard: I have always found teaching to be pleasurable and satisfying. But it has also been independent of my own studio work. I certainly appreciate the rewards that come with teaching when I feel that I am contributing to someone’s education. Also, the affiliation at SAIC has connected me to a broad and diverse community of people at the School and Museum, and if I was not teaching, my circle of colleagues would be much smaller.

 

Neil: What is different about Chicago now?

 

Richard: Well, if you are referring to the 1980s and now, so many things are different. In the visual arts, numerous institutions are larger and more active, more international in reach. The non-profit, artist-run spaces, like N.A.M.E. and Randolph Street, are now largely gone and replaced by a good number of energetic, modest galleries opened mainly by artists themselves. Then many galleries that have long-standing status here contribute to the city just as they have for decades. More young artists remain or move to Chicago than in the recent past, which I take it as a promising sign. The relative expense to live and work here, paired with the city’s cultural benefits, is an encouragement.

 

Neil: Alan Artner was perhaps the longest-running newspaper critic in Chicago. He wrote for the Chicago Tribune and he had two columns each week. The one on Friday reviewed gallery exhibitions, and the Sunday column was devoted to mostly museum exhibitions. Alan seemed to be hugely supportive of your work, and without pause, covered all of your Chicago exhibitions. Was his writing important for you?

 

Richard: Yes, I certainly paid attention to his criticism. He gave thoughtful consideration to his reviews and articles and clearly cared about Chicago art and was able to cover so much during those years that he wrote.

 

Neil: How do you feel about contemporary criticism?

 

Richard: My reading in this regard centers on artists’ monographic books or exhibition catalogs, and that writing is less critique and more in the realm of scholarship. The contemporary criticism carried in daily or monthly publications is so widespread, it is difficult for me to summarize or assess. I read it mostly online, and that easy access must make for a much larger audience.

 

Neil: What sculptors or other artists do you look at?

 

Richard: That is a very long list, and I hesitate to start. But some constants for me are many of the European Modernists, such as Mondrian, Schwitters, Brancusi and Matisse; the American Minimalist artists generally; many of the Italian Arte Povera members; and too many contemporary artists to begin listing. However, other works of art by anonymous artists or artisans have had a profound impact on me, including Asian ceramics [and] sculpture from antiquity.… In fact, we have a New Guinea yam mask that has taken a prominent place in our living space since we bought it in 1973, and very few art works have affected to me as much.

 

Neil: What is your ideal scale?

 

Richard: Well, human scale, but each sculpture, by way of its drawn study, demands a specific size and orientation, so human scale is usually in there, at least by inference. I can identify a process of making and the outcome of the object, and most often their size is at, or less than, torso size. I take that term to mean not only measured size—close to our bodies, but also the implications of structure and reference.

 

Neil: I always appreciated the inconvenience of how you made a sculpture, as there is a certain middle-class work ethic behind each of your sculptures. Although the forms were often referential, the ambiguity of meaning seemed rooted in labor. For sculptors of our generation, hand and touch seemed to connect us with form, yet perhaps that is an increasingly romantic notion. Would you have someone else make your work, and do you have an assistant?

 

Richard: No, it is essential to me that I do everything myself, as much as possible. I do have the actual casting of bronze and aluminum sculptures done at an outside foundry, with all of the preliminary and finish work done by me.

 

Neil: We are both at a formidable age, with hopefully long histories in front, yet when we look at the roster of artists and dealers we started our career with, we most definitely see that the landscape has changed. This past year, both Jim Yood and Dennis Adrian died, as well as Richard Gray, Roy Boyd, and Phyllis Kind. You mentioned that Jim Yood was also important for you. You were in Rome together and spent time together at the SAIC…. He also wrote about your work. This perhaps leads into the next question, particularly as we first met when we were young artists beginning our career in Chicago: do you like getting older?

 

Richard: Not necessarily, but what can you do? The benefit with time is experience and, for artists, I suppose, a wider perspective.

 

Neil: How do you think your work will be seen in one hundred years?

Richard: Well, who knows, but I suppose understood as largely abstract, as the sources in most of my works are oblique and quite personal. And obviously grounded by both the art and architecture of the past and present that I know has influenced me.

 

Neil: Often with artists, a major exhibition is both the catalyst for a large shift or some kind of reassessment of the work. How has this affected you?

 

Richard: After this exhibition organized by the Ren [Renaissance Society], at least for now, I don’t see a recognizable shift in approach or emphasis. I am eager to continue with several works that are in process, to resolve or finish those, as well as initiating new work. But I also do welcome the cause for reflection that the realization of such a show brings, the sense of a clean slate and quiet time.

 

Neil: Often the public sees the romance but not the fierce editing process that goes into a piece of art. In this regard, your work has always seemed to embody that focus, as clear statements of thought resolved in both size and material with an unrelenting rigor and attention to detail. Throughout the many years of looking at your work, I always felt that you said what you wanted in a way that asked the viewer to look closer and harder at the world. With this thought in mind, what advice would you give to a younger artist?

 

Richard: Most importantly, I think, is not to be in a hurry. If one commits to working as an artist, to recognize that it is a highly personal and incremental process, so patience makes it possible. Also, to only put work out into the public that you are proud of because forming that habit is affirming and reinforcing.

 

Make a MONTHLY DONATION or a ONE-TIME DONATION via PayPal

SUBSCRIBE to the print version of the New Art Examiner via PayPal