Ivan Klapez by Amy Dempsey, 2006
Ivan Klapez works in a wide variety of materials, including clay, terracotta, wood, plaster, marble, granite and bronze. He exploits the expressive quality of materials and the architecture of forms, be they those of a face or a building, to convey abstract qualities, such as the inner workings of Samuel Beckett's mind or the essence of music, through sculptural composition. Whether through the figures of the destitute and the lonely, those of musicians and writers or through the soaring forms of skyscrapers, Klapez seems always to be addressing the human will to be and to create, in works which express the difficulty of that struggle as well as the ultimate dignity of those who try.
Although Klapez's new work involving skyscrapers might initially appear a departure from his previous work, I see it as part of a trajectory, in which he is constantly exploring sculptural form, the process of metamorphosis and celebrating the human form and humanity. Inspiration for his work comes from the streets of London and New York, observing the people, buildings, pigeons, etc around him and the way they interact and impact on each other. When he first visited New York he was awed by the sight of skyscrapers and by his visceral and emotional reaction to them. He saw them as monuments, endlessly reaching into the sky, emerging from the narrow streets and piercing the heavens - were they praying to God? Arguing with God? Challenging God?
This experience sparked off many new ideas, which Klapez began exploring around 2000. From sculptures of the metamorphosis of humans and birds, which in one sense were trying to capture man's desire to soar, to be free, he began creating works which express a synergy between humans and buildings - structures made by humans, filled by humans and in which he also sees the human form. As these ideas have begun to ferment, they have expanded and evolved and his desire is to follow this path to its conclusion - exploring a synthesis of forms, materials and ideas.
His plan is to explore new forms and materials, to draw out new themes and questions that are relevant to both sculpture and architecture, to combine the mathematics of geometry with those of the human body and to create a dialogue between different forms, materials and styles in works of varying size. To bring such ideas and questions to life in his anthropomorphic architectural sculptures will require enlightened partners to contribute engineering input and expertise as well as funding.
Klapez's work celebrates humanity and is dedicated to the human will to explore new ideas, the achievements of human minds and human hands, in short, human endeavour. His work could also play a challenging and inspirational role in the larger debates about how to take architecture forward. As architect Paul Turtkovic has already noted, in Klapez's work one can find 'a sublime idea (rather than a process of construction)' and this could be nourishing for all those involved in the experimental process of creating new and meaningful architecture.
Dr. Amy Dempsey based on conversations with Ivan Klapez
Ivan Klapez by Martin Greenwood, 2003
Born in Sinj in present-day Croatia, Ivan Klapez studied at the Split Art School and at the Zagreb Academy of Arts. He received a rigorous academic training rarely found in art schools in the west and immersed himself in the figurative expressionist tradition of his teachers Janes and Sikirica and their modernist antecedents Krsinic, the Italian Marini and particularly the Croatian sculptor Ivan Mestrovic. Later Klapez assisted on public commissions under Tito’s communist government. During the nationalist uprisings in Yugoslavia in the late 1980s he moved to London where he worked actively for the Croatian independence cause and attended the City and Guilds School.
Klapez’s early sculptures in London reflect his difficult circumstances at the time – he lived in a church crypt, which also served as his studio – and his subjects were the ‘tramps’, or homeless and destitute people he encountered daily on the city’s streets. The sculptor’s acute observation of his new environment, and his empathy for his subjects – the by-products of a society where freedom is cherished – were evinced in a remarkable group of drawings and sculptural works, some on a colossal scale. The sculptures from this series convey the drama and loneliness of these individuals as well as their humanity. In the related ‘pigeons’ sculptures, those other ubiquitous inhabitants of London’s streets merge with the human figure to produce works of great character and often humour. Pigeons are represented clutching bottles and smoking, chatting and shuffling along on walking sticks.
Klapez’s sculpture reflects the value he places on form and material, and in the techniques of modelling and direct carving. He works in clay and terracotta, makes full-scale plaster models for casting in bronze, and carves directly in marble, granite, wood and other materials. His training and profound understanding of technical processeses imparts a personal and ‘hands-on’ approach to his work. The concern with the architecture of form and the dynamics and plasticity of material runs through his work: a series of heads of the playwright Samuel Beckett, a writer whose stripped down existentialism mirrors Klapez’s own conception, is the product of an intimate knowledge of the writer’s physiognomy and made without recourse to photographs.
In these pieces the sculptor is concerned, as he puts it, ‘to dramatize Beckett’s own mind’. Similarly, in the ‘Musicians’ series, the abstract, aural character of music and its creation is expressed through sculptural form, ostensibly through the images of musicians but essentially through sculptural composition itself. Likewise, Klapez’s sculptures of Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac and Julius Nyerere, for the Dakawa Parish in the Morogoro Region of Tanzania, are colossal granite figures which embody the dignity and gravitas of those personages.
‘The Skyscrapers’ is the latest in Klapez’s series of works exploring the imagery of urban life. Following his earlier ‘Metamorphoses’ series – which portrayed the diverse inhabitants of London’s streets – Klapez has turned his attention to the towering structures of the New York skyline to investigate the symbolic and expressive character of those familiar forms. As in all his work, the human element is never far away and the concept of transformation remains central to his vision as an artist – in these works monumental vertical forms take on human proportions and severe rectilinear masses transmutate human organs. The series was inspired by Klapez’s first visit to New York in September 1999, two years before the tragic events that horrifically subverted our familiar ideas about those structures. Klapez described how one afternoon he emerged from the subway at Wall Street and saw these towering buildings for the first time: ‘I was shocked by the unreality
of them, their lack of human scale and how they seemed to disappear into the sky’.
Yet he was at the same time aware of their ‘human character’ and the fact that they were ‘after all entirely a product of human thinking and creating’. Their appearance, though so severe and mechanistic was also, symbolically and figuratively, human, like the great structures of gothic cathedrals. Even their sheer height seemed to suggest human aspirations and ambitions, ‘looking upwards, praying, communicating a desire to reach to heaven’. From these thoughts evolved his desire to explore these
contradictory characteristics, again in terms of ‘metamorphoses’. The resulting series of sculptures, produced over the last two years, incorporate severe, abstract forms suggesting endlessness and the unattainable as well as palpable human characteristics. Some combine these different elements in one work, static rectilinear forms with human arms or legs, the play of different perspectives to recreate the viewers perceptions and the use of space and perforations to convey the contradictory and complex symbolic character of these monumental living cathedrals.
Martin Greenwood, June 2003