James Reka is a young contemporary Australian artist based in Berlin, Germany. His origins lie in the alleyways and train lines of Melbourne’s inner-suburbs where he spent over a decade refining his now-emblematic aesthetic. His character work has come to represent the beginnings of a new style of street art: clean, unique and not necessarily on the street (much to his mother’s joy). With an amazing show opening tomorrow night (6 June) at Backwoods Gallery, Reka took time to talk to Damo.
DW: tell us a bit about your early years and how you got into art
Reka: Both parents were creative in their own fields. Mum was a Ballet dancer and Dad at that point was a graphic designer. Dad would draw things for me to copy and always helped me out with my creative projects during my early years a school. Thats how I started drawing. My favourite things to draw at that point were aeroplanes and skulls actually.
Watching cartoons and comics and eventually Skateboarding and Hiphop culture in my teens, lead me down the path of Graffiti and eventually Street Art. It was never my dream to be a fine artist, but through pushing my work on the streets for so many years, eventually I developed a fan base and people started collecting my work. The rest is history.
Reka: Im a painter. That’s my main focus… That’s my love. My work is still very much focused on painting figures and faces, however in the last year I have started to broaden my content to objects and even elements of animals and insects. My style is quite abstract and of flat layers that I overlap and build to create images. I guess I have created this style through the way I like using a spray can, actually – A lot of fluid curves and harmonies lines. Every line is thought out and has a relationship with the next line. Harmony is the best word to describe this. My street work often is more graphic and colourful than my gallery work. I almost like pursuing two different styles or directions with both my gallery and street work. I use primarily brushes and acrylics for my artwork, with the light use of spray paint mainly for texture. The introduction of brushes have offered different options to paint in more of a messier style and play with textures a lot more. For me its easier to paint clean with spray paint. Therefore, my walls are usually quite clean and simple.
DW: You now live overseas and travel fairly extensively, has this changed the way you look at your art? Has it change your style at all?
Reka: Without a doubt. It’s hard for me to see this as it happens, but many people have told me my style and direction has changed since my relocation to Berlin. Mixing with new artists and the exposure to different styles of work I see on the streets and in galleries have pushed me in new areas. That was part of the reason for my relocation – to have fresh inspiration and of course to push my work internationally. Also, I think it has broaden my content matter and the use of other materials to create Art – not just painting or drawing. I can see myself focusing on 3D installation and sculpture work a lot more in the future.
DW: Tell us more about your upcoming show at Backwoods Gallery. What is the concept behind it? What can we expect to see? What are the main selling points? Are you doing anything new, different, “game changing”?
Reka: My show is titled UNTOLD. This exhibition has a lot broader theme than previous shows I have staged. It is still very much a figurative show, but in new light – I have focused heavily on the abstraction and amalgamation of human forms and elements. The main content of this exhibition focuses on a series of large scale linen works that depict a blend of abstracted female forms and textures that I have taken from the Berlin gritty streets. Each piece have been based of photos that I have taken during the last 2 months in Berlin watching the transition of life change from Winter to Spring. The celebration of life comes into bloom with the cherry blossoms and people are outside again. I have focused on more traditional canvas/linen work for this exhibition. People are going to look forward seeing new content and also a complete direction in style. Also I have painted a series of smaller found objects that I have picked up during missions to the many cool abandoned factories and buildings scattered throughout Berlin. These pieces focus on simplified forms of objects that relate to my a new chapter of my life in Berlin.
DW: How do you find the transition from street to gallery or vice versa?
Reka: My gallery work is an extension of my street work, however my approach is different and often content matter. When I am working on a show I really need to think how each piece relates to each other and how they sit as a complete series in the gallery.
Often the Gallery world is quite far removed to the street world and is scrutinised a lot more. Its funny what happens when money comes into play with things!
For me, I find that you can’t exactly replicate what you do on the streets, in the gallery. I find that a lot of street artists that make this transition keep producing the same type of work and don’t really push it in a different way. It’s a little boring for me to see this, I want to see something new. A gallery show provides an opportunity to take your work in a different direction that maybe you wouldn’t be able not on the streets. Over the recent could of years my focus has definitely been more on gallery shows and pushing my fine art.
Each show for me is like a stepping stone to the next one. Onwards and Upwards!
Reka: Enjoying the process has always been a priority of mine. It’s very selfish! In recent years my philosophy has somewhat changed with maturity and being honest with myself and the direction I want to take my work. I am involved with less things recently mainly due to me being more selective of what I want to get involved in. Quality over quantity. I find if I’m not enjoying what I am doing, I won’t do it at all. Im not much a fan of repeating myself so I often have small breaks from my work and literally do something else.
DW: Of what achievement are you proudest so far?
Reka: Thats a tough one. I can’t pinpoint one to be honest. I think the most satisfying moments have been though being invited and flown around the world for large mural projects and festivals. Getting the opportunity to connect with other artists and inspires has been so beneficial for me. Thats living the dream!
DW: What makes you laugh / pisses you off?
Reka: People watching in Berlin is one of my favourite past times. So many crazies! Im not going to answer the latter…. maybe ignorance actually.
DW: What words of wisdom do you have for someone who is trying to get into the scene?
Reka: Be hungry – you really need to live and breathe it. Nothing happens over night so make sure you are enjoying the process and be true to yourself. If you are having fun its a really good sign. Also, If i could recommend anything it would be to get out and travel. I know this takes money and also time, but it is very important. In so many ways…
DW: What is one thing you cannot travel without??
Reka: Music is life for me. I could not live or work without it.
DW: What else can we expect to see from Reka in 2014?
Reka: I am super excited to have a Stolenspace show coming up in London in September. Apart from that I hope to be out traveling and painting some nice walls around the world in the second half of the year. Its very much a balance of shows, projects and walls for me…
DW: Where else can people find you?
Reka: you can find me online here-
website – www.rekaone.com
Apart from that, I hope you see trails of evidence of me passing through places!