Richard Rezac’s 12 new abstract wood and metal sculptures at Feigen are easy to miss at first. Often small, sometimes mounted in corners or perched high on a wall, they look a bit like manufactured objects whose original function is now obscure. Rezac is not surprised by this comparison. “In undergraduate art school I fixed on the value of simplicity,” he says and compares his work to hand tools. “The use of materials in tools is usually close to perfect–they have a rationale and simplicity. I would like my works to have a rightness that seems indisputable.”

Rezac begins with drawings, which only sometimes progress to models and then to actual sculptures. “I think I just respond to what’s in front of me and then make a change or confirm what’s there. I try to read what the characteristics of the form are, what it needs to be–heavy or light, what color, what method of construction it needs to have.”

Japanese art is a source of inspiration, particularly Japanese gardens. “There’s a breathtaking abstraction. On the one hand their presentation of nature seems so removed, but at the same time they’re made of the very same materials and simply restate the subject in a clarified way. It’s easy to understand why these gardens are arenas for concentration or meditation.”

The Great Plains landscapes of his youth may be another influence. A part-time teacher at the School of the Art Institute, Rezac grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, and Sioux Falls, South Dakota. “Countless people tell me they drive across the country from here to Colorado, and Nebraska is just this blank. I don’t agree. There is a kind of great simplicity to that horizontal line that the landscape makes with the sky.” Because of the absence of dra-matic details, he says, “the closer you look at any one thing, the more you see.”

The earliest memory Rezac has of making art was an assignment he had in elementary school to draw the interior of a house–and how hard he concentrated on the wooden floorboards and grain. He knew little about art until he went away to college in Oregon. “My idea of good art was Andrew Wyeth. A sculp-ture teacher asked me why; I told him he could draw the very best, and he kept asking why that was significant.” Soon Rezac discovered the German expressionists and Matisse, which led to the abstractions of Mondrian and Brancusi and to minimalists like Richard Serra and Donald Judd. He became concerned with whether “a line could either be a forward extension from edge to edge of the paper or a demarcation within the rectangle.” Eventually his drawings led to paper cutouts, which became designs for sculptures.

Rezac acknowledges that viewers will bring associations to his work, some of which he intends. One untitled piece is made up of small, nickel-plated cast bronze towers arranged in rows on the floor. “You can read several things into it. The buildings in public housing are sometimes arranged in this manner,” he says. “I did think about mushrooms coming up from the earth. I nickel plated them for the way light skims across the top, creating a play of light against the gallery’s black floor; I was interested in how these things would dissolve and reappear, given the reflections.”

Sun and Moon consists of two disks on the wall, one that’s shaped like an imperfect circle and painted yellow, the other a half disk painted pale tan. Though one influence was the gilded suns and moons in Japanese screens, “it began with my thinking of the shape of a violin–the area called the waist, between the two curves where the soundboard is. I was especially intrigued by these strange curves.” If viewers don’t see the connection to the violin, a sculpture hanging across from the work may help. Cremona–whose shape more closely resembles a violin’s midsection–is named after the famous violin-making center.

Nonetheless Rezac says he’s not interested in “literal art, in representational art. I think I gain a lot more from making abstraction. Invention–finding something I haven’t seen before–is really important to me and is at the heart of what I do.”

Rezac’s sculptures are on view at Feigen, 742 N. Wells, until October 12. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 11 to 6. Call 787-0500.

–Fred Camper

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Richard Rezac photo by Chip Williams.