Bernard Klevickas is a sculptor who utillizes industrial processes in an expressionist manner to create objects of meticulous refinement with an interest in exploring the possibilities of surface and form. As an aspiring artist developing his own sculpture over the past 22 years Bernard has at various times fabricated sculpture for the artists Jeff Koons, Louise Bourgeois, Frank Stella, and others. He has a manufacturing certificate in CNC (computer numerical control) machining and manual lathe and mill operation and a Bachelor of Fine Art degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His sculpture has won many awards and has been shown indoor and outdoor in numerous exhibitions in New York City, the New York Hudson Valley, Chicago Illinois, West Palm Beach Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Dallas Texas, Istanbul Turkey, Venice Italy, and Bermuda.
Here I have an opportunity to talk to Klevickas about how he sees space in waves and how his process refuses to be constricted by hard flat surfaces of his chosen media and the spacial grid in which we and his work reside:
1. I am most interested in your focus on waves as the dominant spacial form. So often in art and thoughts about space, the grid in the foundational element. This is true of painting, sculpture, and architecture. I trust your time in school required your working within the confines of the grid. How did you move from it? Perhaps I should ask, have you moved from it? Does working in public spaces require a certain amount of recognition of the grid? Perhaps your “waveform shapes” and curves permit a sort of freedom, though like painting (canvas) there is an implied set of special concerns that may imprison. Is there some confinement in your work?
Waves are a way I can think of space. A surface is 2 sided, 2 dimensional and a barrier wall, floor or ceiling but if it has ripples or curves within it becomes 3 dimensional, it then moves into sculpture.
I don’t remember the grid being brought up much at school. Maybe it is so ubiquitous everywhere that I didn’t consider it then. School was so long ago. I drew and painted at first but did feel confined by the rectangular and flat surface. That was before school. I started making shaped canvases then I started using sewn together pieces of fabric (patchwork) as the shaped edged, but still flat canvas surface. Then I started making soft sculptures from the patchwork, which was happening during art school. After school I drifted back to metal which was in my background because my father had a metalworking shop in the garage (actually more of a machine shop with a lathe, but that’s getting technical). As a kid my father showed me some of the techniques for metalworking but while in art school I focused on different materials. Afterwards somehow the two merged. I became interested in making a hard surface bump and curve (look soft?).
Perhaps confinement and freedom play off of each other repeatedly to create patterns and for me one of the best ways to present this is the waveform. I did not follow a logical set of literal guidelines to end up making the kind of work I make. It was much more of feeling my way through it. Confinement is the edge of the shaping tool and freedom is in using it to shape things. Like most anything, you start from a very limited area and you learn to find the boundaries then you learn how to push those boundaries out further or to your own design.
Regarding art in public spaces- there are certain issues to abide by for safety so things don’t collapse and people don’t bump their heads on things sticking out or trip over low things or climb on certain surfaces, but it does not require a grid. The setting may often impart influence on the artist because the art often visually interacts with nearby architecture and much public sculpture may utilize grids or symmetry more out of an ingrained desire of reflecting the order surrounding the art.
2. Your choice to work in metals seems equally constricting. The results however are absolutely fantastic. The polished and colorful surfaces seem to emphasize the nature of the material even as you change its form in ways we may not always imagine. Further, your viewers’ own personal familiarity with metals adds to the awe-inspiring inquisitiveness of each of your pieces. One can easily compare the appearance of your work to that of Frank Gehry’s buildings after years and years of beautifully spectacular steel skyscrapers designed according to the grid and showcasing the strength of the metals. Architecture however requires a certain amount of utility in chosen materials. As a sculptor, you are afforded a bit more freedom. Is there sculptural medium other than metals that permit similar exploring of space and surfaces?
Any material has its limits. Clay Dries and gets brittle, fabric rips, paint fades, wood warps. Metal does have plasticity but it takes a lot of effort (usually with heavy machinery) to shape it. My polished, colorful work was inspired from automobiles, generally the fancy ones. Influences like the curve on the fender of a porsche. I like the way light bounces off the surface. Frank Gehry was an early influence, though his buildings, Bilbao for instance, appear more like curling ribbons than waves. A flat sheet of paper or metal can be wrapped into a tube rather easily, but it cannot be curved in multiple directions quite as easily, like in a bowl or saddle shape. It is possible for metal to do this though and car manufacturers have been doing it for years, but attention is rarely payed to those engineers compared to a starchitect. John Chamberlain is also an influence but the process he used was rather uncontrolled.
I use computer modeling and sometimes clay and paper mache to experiment with forms.
3. Understandably, you speak about your work in predominantly organic forms. Wrestling with the metals that result in undulating forms illustrate this living and movement in lived spaces. We speak of abstract painting in similar organic/geometric terms. Is this a visual language in which you speak of your work, or do you see your works as living pieces sharing lived public spaces with trees, flowers, people.
Interesting question! I enjoy the process, so on that level to me it is process art, and making the art is something of a performance (usually done in private). It is a very long drawn-out type of action. However, I do it with the end game in mind: that there will be a physical object inhabiting real space for others to see. It is and isn’t a visual language: “language” suggests to me that it is understandable with words and I do not think that it is. It is a visual experience and embedded in the object is the culmination of the knowledge and everyday stuff that makes up who I am. As Pollack said “I am nature” I feel I understand what he meant and this is what I try to do in my way. The objects, though, are just things, perhaps they buzz with some residue energy I put into them or maybe not. I abhor the thought that they are nothing more than the dialogue around them but if that is so then I hope that the dialogue is about the craft and labor involved and the influences from our more common functional industrial objects in which we rarely consider what was involved in their making.
4. Despite the materials you use, you speak of your sculpture, like every tree, star, and person as alive or in some way a living organism. Do you see metals as a living material? Staying a bit longer with the question of medium, there seems to be a very conscious decision to choose materials (metal scraps or bicycles) that a decidedly “dead” or at least no longer in use. While I’m certainly aware of upcycling, recycling, etc, I wonder if yours is less about environmentalism or more about inviting your audience to see even industrially manufactured things as living. If this is the case, why is it valuable for us to recognize this?
This goes back to my prior answer. The objects we use in our everyday are rarely considered deeply. Where did the metal come from? Who designed this bike frame (for instance) to look this way and why? Who welded it? Who painted it? Were they well paid? Did they inhale dangerous fumes? Industrial manufacturing has become a very hidden process. The raw material was part of the Earth and it will be recycled (metal is by far more recyclable than plastic for instance) or returned to the Earth. Is it living? Not in the sense that the people who work with it are. Metal has peculiar characteristics as does clay or paper. Living in the grand scale of geology, yes, and a galactic star is also living it is as if all of humanity and other animals and plants are living inside a larger living organism called a galaxy living in a living universe but it is much more easy to just zoom down to our human scale and just say for simplicities sake that its probably better not to call the metal objects I make alive, they are things and on the human scale we should focus on what we make and why. and at what cost to others and our environment. Many “things” are not made in the U.S. anymore. It often seems that an argument about outsourcing can often lead to a type of xenophobia and that is not at all what I want to suggest. I wonder that if much industrial manufacturing is no longer happening in the U.S. then what other types of employment are most of us in the U.S. doing? For who and why? It is a nice thought that if a kid needs a bicycle someone in a factory is making one and that the circle is completed. When that circle excludes willing local workers for fair pay over an under paid person working in dangerous conditions 1,000′s of miles away so that a few investors can attain a higher profit margin while requiring more resources just to get the bicycle here; the bicycle is just an example but I do worry that the connection between what we use and how it is made is lost. Sustainability is becoming ever more important and as a society we have to ask who is gaining by the careless waste of resources.
5. Finally, my interest in your work in manipulating metal forms lies in your processes. You say the materials you choose require lots of engineered planning that combines computers and industrialized machinations. I am originally from an old steel town and my memory of the steel mill is mixed with fascination and fear. The large smoke stacks, the smell that pour through the neighborhoods combined with the promise of a strong working class, a thriving culture, life. Concepts of class in art are always sticky discussions and I don’t want to really get into that (I’m not interested in defining higher/lower arts), but I am interested in historical references of spaces shared by class or culture. I’m not sure this is a conversation you look to engaging but do you see your work, not the sculptures, but the process in some way a recognition of a working class presented in spaces of leisure?
Yes. There has to be a balance. Smoke stacks billowing black smoke should not happen anywhere. There are much cleaner processes and methods today, but the concern is and has been the financial cost rather than the environmental cost. This has to change.
Art (specifically what is called High art) is in an odd moment in time right now. Is Art to glorify the rich or can it bring about a greater universal awareness and help lead to a more egalitarian world?