Ken Vavrek: Assemblages: In the Company of Light

By Carpenter, Syd | Ceramics Art & Perception, December 2008 | Go to article overview

Ken Vavrek: Assemblages: In the Company of Light


Carpenter, Syd, Ceramics Art & Perception


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KEN VAVREK'S LATEST CERAMIC WALL SCULPTURES project a reserved and elegant physical beauty. From a pared-down cast of geometric forms, his assemblages propose a relationship between architecture, painting, motion and play. Each sculpture is a collection of boxes, spheres, vaults and platforms bound together by an orchestrated skin of textured glazes, the whole stripped down to reveal an unrelenting straight-edged formality. Adornment and the superfluous flourish have no place here. In comparison to earlier works recalling the visual drama of cliff walls, ravines and canyons, these newest works converse more easily with the cool Minimalism of Bauhaus design. Where reduction rules, nothing is lost. Viewers familiar with earlier work notice strategic vacancies. Space, which would have been occupied by mass, is now drawn in shadows and light. Synthesizing his influences through interpretive ingenuity, Vavrek is firmly located in mid20th century modernism by way of iconic figures such as Anthony Caro, Hans Hofmann and Mies Van der Rohe.

With titles including Commander, Sylph, Sextet, Quintet and Enclave, each is vertically or horizontally mounted on the wall. Diagonals are rare. They are dependent on walls even while creating their own plausibly navigated interior and exterior environments. Enclave describes an inhabitable space in which the viewers imagine themselves safely ascending and descending a series of translucent platforms and ledges. Beware. Transient shifting colour signals the potential for the whole thing dissolving and spontaneously reconstituting. Stability is restored by interlocking blocks and cantilevered planes. Shinto temple construction techniques come to mind. In the largest sculpture titled Commander, geometric shapes including barrel vaults and blocks in varying proportions move upward towards the viewer in systematically layered planes of colour and volume. The sense of obvious peril evident in earlier landscape-oriented works is down played in favour of measured arrangements of one volume against another, each in reassuring balance. In these sculptures nature is subdued with its potential for chaos suggested in overlapping, agitated layers of ruptured glaze.

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Vavrek demonstrates that less can indeed be more in this series of deceivingly serene works. As with anything conspicuously built or assembled, some indication of what holds it together is usually discernible. That is not evident here. In these works, parts merge, bind and intersect invisibly, suggestive of an external pressure in equilibrium with pressure from within. With no piece greater than 43 inches in height, the scale of these works invites the viewer to enter rather than retreat, to gradually settle into the rhythm of shapes and surfaces. As with all things rhythmic, if you find the count, you'll pick up the beat. In the vertical sculptures, the same selection of shapes appears, varying in quantity and configuration. Starting with Uptown, with ten shapes and ending with Sylph II with five, Vavrek systematically subtracts to finally arrive at a core sequence. Are we looking at a heartbeat?

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Formal stability conceals a capacity for shift and movement. Myth, Uptown and Cross Current remind one of the heart stopping alarm felt when machines unexpectedly lurch into motion. …

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